Sports car drivers visit cancer patients

Gunnar Jeannette, a sports car driver, visits with eight-year-old Norah Derby at St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay on Aug. 8, 2014. (WLUK)

GREEN BAY - Some world-class racers spent Friday morning with young cancer patients. Their visit to St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay included some hands-on fun with a racing theme.

"It's just a great feeling coming and doing whatever you can to help," said Gunnar Jeannette, a sports car driver from the International Motor Sports Association.

Jeannette and Frankie Montecalvo spent two hours with Norah Derby. Derby has spent 150 days in the hospital since December. The eight-year-old from Marinette is battling bone cancer.

Her day included more than the typical doctor visits and chemotherapy treatments. Jeannette and Montecalvo helped Norah and her brother build and decorate a wooden car for a friendly competition.

"We put it on a ramp and then raced it," said Norah.

A specially-designed track was brought to the pediatric floor for the day. Another young patient and his sister also joined the fun.

"It's nice to put in a little creativity, a little bit of competition," said Jeannette. "You know, we always leave here with smiles on our faces, and ordinarily if we've done our job the kids have smiles on their faces, too."

Of course, the track and the cars were much smaller than the professional racers are used to. But in the competition, everyone finished in first place.

"I look forward just to hang out with the kids and just take their mind off of it as much as you can and just have a good time," said Montecalvo.

In all, three racers were at St. Vincent to spend time with three different cancer patients.

"The strength that these kids and the families have is definitely something to look up to," said Jeannette.

"It was all pretty fun," added Norah.

Later in the day, Norah continued her chemotherapy. She hopes treatment will wrap up before Halloween.

Meanwhile, the drivers will compete Sunday in Elkhart Lake, knowing they are fortunate to be battling other cars and not cancer.

"It's a huge dose of perspective," said Jeannette.

The visit was coordinated by the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer. The foundation brings racers to Green Bay once a year before the Road America race in Elkhart Lake.