Grand Prix celebrities, drivers visit young hospital patients
by Kelly Puente
LONG BEACH - Miller Children's Hospital patient Ethan Klamm rarely slows down once he's on his daily tricycle ride through the hospital's hematology-oncology ward.
But when actor Keanu Reeves walked up with a stuffed toy Toyota bus, the 2-year-old made a pit stop.
"He never gets off his bike so he must be impressed," said mom, Stephani Klamm.
More than a dozen celebrities and pro race car drivers stopped by Miller Children's on Thursday, visiting bedsides and playrooms with barrels of toys in tow. The celebrities, including actors Adrien Brody, Brian Austin Green, Adam Carolla and Megyn Price, pro skateboarder Tony Hawk, and recording artist Jesse McCartney, will be racing on Saturday in the 34th Annual Toyota Pro/Celebrity race, a popular attraction over Grand Prix weekend.
The annual celebrity visit is part of a program called Racing for Kids. Dr. William Pinsky, a New Orleans-based pediatric cardiologist, founded the program two decades ago as a way to connect sick children with their favorite race car drivers.
"I used to race cars but I wasn't any good at it, so I decided to combine two of the things I loved," said Pinsky, who was with the group for the Long Beach visit.
Racing for Kids, in partnership with Toyota, has visited more than 600 hospitals and 16,000 children over the years, he said. The program also raises donations for the hospitals.
In a colorful Miller playroom room, children's faces brightened as Reeves and pro BMX racer Jamie Bestwick popped in with a few stuffed toys. Bestwick immediately sat down and began helping the children paint small, wooden race cars. Mary Spix, a volunteer with the playroom's art program, was especially pleased to see a smile on 9-year-old Benjamin Payne's face.
"They got a smile out of him," she said. "That's so wonderful, because he wasn't feeling well today."
At the bedside of 12-year-old Arturo Vega, TV actor and voice actor Patrick Warburton went through a rendition of his cartoon voices. The actor lends his deep voice to characters including Joe Swanson on "Family Guy" and Steve Barkin on "Kim Possible."
Warburton, a father of four, says he's visited a number of children's hospitals. This fall, he plans on hosting a charity golf tournament to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
"You're in the right place," the actor told young Vega. "They'll fix you up here."
Julia Hernandez, a 16-year-old San Pedro resident, said she was excited to meet actor Zachary Levi. The 29-year-old heartthrob is best known for his role as Chuck Bartowski on the TV series "Chuck."
"He's much cuter in person," she said, with a smile.
1) Actor Keanu Reeves kneels down to greet 2-year-old hemophilia patient, Ethan Klamm, of Long Beach, with a plush Scion car during the annual Toyota Celebrity Grand Prix visit sponsored by Racing for Kids at Miller Children's Hospital in Long Beach on Thursday. (Diandra Jay/Press-Telegram)
2) Actor, songwriter, and singer, Jesse McCartney, center, shakes the hand of oncology patient Nicolas Escobedo, 12, of Long Beach. (Diandra Jay/Press-Telegram)