Heather Miller was being driven to the hospital for surgery on Jan. 26, but her thoughts were on a voice mail her mom, Wendy, had received three days earlier. Steelers safety Troy Polamalu said he had left something special at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh for his 10-year-old fan from Bedford, Pa. "The whole 2½-hour ride, instead of Heather dreading what was to come," Wendy says, "she was anxious about Troy's surprise." When the family arrived, they found the jersey Polamalu had worn in the AFC Championship Game, autographed.
Polamalu met Heather—who is the guest editor of the July issue of SI Kids—last October, shortly after she was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a cancer of the bone. He stays in touch by texting, including one the day after the Steelers' Super Bowl win. "How about that, Heather? Hope we made you happy," it read.
Polamalu has developed similar relationships with half a dozen Children's Hospital patients and their families. He plays Rock Band or draws pictures with the kids and chats with their parents. "He spends hours here," says Mike Shulock, the child life specialist at the hospital. "I can't say enough about the impact he has."