Empathy Drives Frye to Give Back

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When Channing Frye arrived at Phoenix Children’s Hospital on Tuesday, he was confronted by his own past as much as the patients’ present.

The Suns’ forward had spent enough time in hospitals after his 20-month-old daughter went through five eye surgeries to correct cataract-caused blindness. Now, Frye is able to see her seeing him.

Last year Frye was shelved for the entire season due to heart complications and limited to doctor’s checkups, golf and yoga. The experiences left him with an added appreciation for the simple things, something he wanted to convey to the young patients at Phoenix Children’s.

So he sat down with them and alternated between talking and listening. The topics of conversation weren’t health-related. Frye didn’t want them to be. He knew that what helps a child most is escaping the adult-like constraints impaired health can offer, even if only temporarily.

“The biggest thing I’ve found that kids like is when you’re just treating them like kids,” Frye said. “When you know the toys that they’re going to play with or you know the shows that they’re watching. When you seem interested in them, you don’t look at them like ‘oh my gosh, look at all the tubes’ and stuff. Kids just want to be kids.”

Kids, of course, are capable of throwing adults off with their choices of conversation. As a father of two young children and only 30 years old himself, Frye held his own with all of them.

“For me, it’s like ‘hey, if you want to talk about the Little Mermaid, let’s talk about the Little Mermaid,’” he laughed. “’You want to talk about Legos and Star Wars and all that kind of stuff, let’s talk about that all day. Whatever’s going to make you happy and help you get past this difficult part in your life.’”

After Frye had given the children what they wanted, he turned to the hospital’s adults to give what they needed.

Pulling out his personal checkbook, he started filling in the dollar amount with the number one. Four zeroes followed. Then a decimal point, followed by two more zeroes.

“I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to come out here to do what I love. Whenever you have health scares, you really appreciate the little things. For me, seeing these kids fight for their lives…this was the best way I could give back.”

— Channing Frye

His explanation for the act was as simple as the act itself, even if the feeling behind both was much more.

“I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to come out here to do what I love,” Frye said. “Whenever you have health scares, you really appreciate the little things. For me, seeing these kids fight for their lives…this was the best way I could give back.”

The key word there is “could”, because Frye knows many of the patients’ parents are unable to do as much as they’d like to help their children. The Suns’ veteran saw yesterday as a chance to act on the feeling he himself experienced as a parent of a struggling child.

“As parents, we all go through these things where I think we would all put ourselves ahead of our children,” Frye said. “I would switch places with my daughter so she doesn’t have any pain during her life.”

He didn’t stop there, either. Shortly after his in-person donation at Phoenix Children’s, Frye announced he and his Frye Family Foundation were donating $5,000 to Casey Eye Institute in Portland, the same place that saw his daughter’s eyesight restored. He followed with another $5,000 donated to the Children’s Cancer Association.

As overwhelming as these acts appear, Frye doesn’t want Tuesday to appear as an emotion-filled anomaly, nor does he want such moments to be restricted to wealthy and/or famous athletes.

“I don’t want it to be a one-time thing,” he said. “I want to be able to do more and make sure that people in this community do more. It’s not just for children. It’s for people all around.”

Those are loaded words for a loaded cause, but the motivation is the scene Frye remembers most from his Tuesday visit. It came before he wrote the check, while he was taking in the faces of the patients he and his teammates were, by their mere presence, changing one smile at a time.

“To see their kids fighting for their lives but still get a smile when they see the Gorilla, when they see myself and Archie and Miles and Gerald and everyone else that came, it just made my day, man,” he said.