This New Year's Eve was particularly special for a 6-year-old boy named Julian.
Moda Center hosted a New Year's Eve tradition Tuesday night. Kids who were at the Winterhawks hockey game got to take to the ice with the players after the game ended. The team made the night extra special for a Portland boy with several health challenges.
Julian Martos, 6, and his family had planned to go to the game so Julian could get on the ice with the team and other kids after the game. He came to the same game in 2012 and had a blast. But, doctors diagnosed Julian with a heart condition days before Christmas.
"We bought the tickets a few weeks ago and then got the news that he was rather urgently going to be needing heart surgery," Julian's dad, Pablo, said.
The Martos family decided to cancel their plans to go to the game. Julian's parents didn't want Julian to feel bad he couldn't skate with the other kids after the game because he'd had surgery 10 days earlier.
"They removed part of his aorta and had to stitch it back together," Pablo said.
A friend of their family contacted the Winterhawks and told them about Julian. So the Winterhawks invited Julian, his parents, his older sister Rory and a family friend to be guests at the game. The bonus was that Julian got to meet Coach Mike Johnston and the team in the locker room, sit on their bench during warm-ups and sit on their bench during the kid's skate after the game.
"We were shocked. I mean we didn't really expect anything like that," Pablo said.
At the game, Julian walked into the Winterhawks locker room and was greeted with cheers from the team. Defenseman Josh Hanson presented Julian with a hockey stick used in the game and a kid-sized jersey.
"You going to cheer them on during warm-up, right," Coach Johnston asked Julian.
"Yes, but first, can I have some dinner?," said Julian.
"It's nice that he gets a good thing this December because this has been a rough month for him," said Carissa Martos.
Julian's heart issues, which have left a large scar on his left rib-cage, aren't the extent of his health troubles. He was also born with something called "Craniosynotosis," where the brain grows but the skull doesn't. Julian has had four major brain surgeries in his short life to correct that, the most recent in September.
"Tumultous. That's a good word," Pablo described what it's been like going through Julian's health crisis.
Julian's been through more than most people go through in a lifetime.
"He's a happy kid," said Carissa Martos.
On this night, Julian was just able to be a kid, thanks to the Winterhawks.
"Thank you, Winterhawks!," said Julian.
Pablo said Julian has no more surgeries ahead of him and should grow up to be a healthy adult. If all goes well, he'll be able to skate with the other kids after the 2014 New Year's Eve game.