You don't often hear laughter inside hospital walls – a place where kids like Gracie Werk have spent far too much time in their short, little lives.
Now 9 years old, she's been in and out of the hospital since she was 4 with a case of scoliosis so severe it was impacting her internal organs.
"Her outlook is, ‘Mom, I'm doing this so I can be better, I want to swim and be able to run,'" her mother, Leann Werk, told KHQ's Kelsey Watts. "She's the one who is awesome because she helps keep me going."
Now in traction at Shriners Hospital for Children in Spokane, she needs to have back surgery to either fuse her spine or insert rods. The Werk family is from Montana and has been at Shriners for 35 days now – mother sleeping on a couch next to her daughter's hospital bed.
Gracie is certainly in need of a smile, and Tuesday she – and a lot of other children – got it when three Spokane Indians pitchers visited.
John Straka, Collin Wiles and Luis Pollorena signed autographs, made new friends with the kids, took pictures and gave out team swag – along with Doris the Spokanasaurus.
"I know what they're going through," Pollorena told KHQ.
At the age of 4, he was diagnosed with leukemia – a battle he fought until age 8. While Shriners doesn't treat children with cancer, Pollorena remembers all too well what it's like to be a kid in a hospital, wanting to do things your body simply won't allow.
"It was a struggle to just wake up day in and day out and say, ‘I'm going to be fine,' and move forward even though things looked rough at the time," Pollorena explained. "They called [my recovery] a miracle, but we know God just put his hands on me and he has plans for me, and hopefully that's baseball."
Gracie and her mom went to a Spokane Indians game a few weeks ago, and also attended Tuesday's game against Hillsboro, bringing a little light – and a little baseball – into her long recovery.
"A week after they got her in traction she's totally different, she's running and playing and being a little girl like she should be," Werk explained.
"You can see it in these kids – how they're carrying themselves, some of them have broken bones, but the smiles on their faces tell you deep down, ‘I'm going to be fine,' that's what they're thinking," Pollorena added. "It's just nice to be able to give back."