The bandages covering Justin Emfinger’s face couldn’t hide his smile when Na’Shan Goddard, a former New Orleans Saints offensive lineman, walked into his hospital room.
The 11-year-old burn patient from Meadville, Miss., at Joseph M. Still Burn Center was waiting to go to his fourth surgery when Goddard made a surprise visit Friday morning, bearing the gifts of two footballs, photos of him in his Saints uniform and a new, authentic Super Bowl 2010 football sweater.
Justin, who had the chance to hang out with Goddard for about a half-hour, get his football paraphernalia autographed and even wear Goddard’s 2010 Super Bowl ring, said the visit was “special.”
“A lot of people don’t get to meet a real superstar like that,” Justin said.
Goddard, a University of South Carolina graduate, lives in Columbia. During his career, he also played for the New York Giants, New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks. He earned his NFL championship ring when the Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV.
A huge Saints fan, Justin is recovering from burns that covered about 12 percent of his body, including his face. He was in Mississippi helping his grandfather fix a garden tiller when the spark plug accidentally ignited, according to a release.
Justin has grown up loving the Saints and even had the opportunity to attend several practices and have his pictures taken with the team’s cheerleaders.
When the hospital’s director of burn services learned that Justin was a Saints fan, she made some calls to set up the meeting. Justin knew a player was coming, but he didn’t know the exact day, said Barclay Bishop, the media relations manager at Doctors Hospital.
During his visit, Goddard met with other children at Doctors Hospital. He was glad to be able “to put a smile on their faces and give them a little inspiration for the day.”
“I thought Justin was awesome. The first thing I noticed was his family support,” Goddard said. “That’s the No. 1 thing. Any time you’re going through an injury, a problem in your life, you need your family’s support. It was awesome to see him in good spirits with what he was going through.
“We’re going to be Facebook friends. We took good pictures together.”
Justin plays baseball, and athletes often face adversity in sports and life.
“This is just a stepping stone to his next level. I wish him a speedy recovery. I’m glad I could make his day,” Goddard said. “Me and my kids, we’re going to pray for them tonight. That could be my kids one day.”
Justin’s mother, Jennifer Wallace, said her son was undergoing his first skin graft Friday for the second-degree burns on the left side of his face, back of his shoulder and left arm, but he’s doing well and might be able to go home Monday. She and Justin’s father and grandmother appreciated Goddard’s visit.
“He’s probably very shocked, excited, all in one, to know that somebody actually came to visit with him from the sports field,” Wallace said. “This will be something that he will always remember. It’s made him very happy.”