Wouldn’t it be cool if we could see Kinnick Stadium from here?
My dad pondered that question as he peered out the window, watching the last of the orange and gold leaves tumble down from the trees they were once perched, several stories below us.
As I fluttered in and out of a morphine induced haze, I thought about what it might be like to watch the Hawkeyes play from the hospital bed I was confined to. We weren’t a football family. My dad watched hunting shows on the weekend, not college ball. But anything would have been a welcome distraction from the constant hum and urgent beeps from the machines monitoring my breathing, and more importantly, my heart beat.
I spent three days at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital the week of Thanksgiving in 2006, long before the Stead Family Children’s Hospital had even been conceptualized let alone built to overlook the stadium my dad has suddenly become fascinated with. I was 17 when I had open-heart surgery to fix a previously undiagnosed heart condition. Fix is maybe too light of a word. The doctors and nurses at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics saved my life.
I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder when it came to my heart condition. I’d lived 17 years as a completely normal kid. And then one day, I wasn’t. Rather, my world was turned upside down when the doctors told me I had never been normal, I had been sick my entire life.
I didn’t identify myself as a “kid” at that point. I was 17, basically an adult, and this was a very adult situation I was in. Then I sat in those waiting rooms in the pediatrics wing, I wandered those halls and I met those kids. I saw parents soothing toddlers, making their day of doctors’ visits as normal as possible. And I saw kids, with varying conditions and illnesses, making their parents laugh; my parents laugh. As I’ve grown up I’ve felt more and more of a kinship to those kids. We were all put into a terrible situation and trying to deal with it the best we could, and those kids that chose to laugh and smile and hang on to every ounce of childhood their illness didn’t take, they are all little super heroes.
Over the years my family and I have talked about what we could do to give back. Not necessarily to the doctors and nurses, because that’s a debt that can never be repaid, but to the other families that spend their time playing hangman in Iowa City waiting rooms. What could we do to let them know we’re here, we love them. And then we saw it, the Wave.
After my stint in Iowa City, my dad became a Hawkeye fan despite living across the border in Missouri where everything is Tiger country. My mom called me one day in 2017 to ask if I was watching the game. I wasn’t. As mom described what they had watched on TV, we both broke down in tears. What a touching and sincere gesture to the children and families in the children’s hospital. What a way to tell them, “We’re here and we love you.”
Last weekend, my dad and I were finally able to send our love to the kids and families at the hospital. Our parent company, Folience, treated some of its employees to tickets to the Iowa v Middle Tennessee game. I was one of those lucky employees.
Our seats were fantastic, row 4 on the 47 yard line. We were close enough we could almost touch the players and we could definitely hear the coach yelling at them. For Dad and I, however, the best part of our seats was the pristine view of the Stead Family Children’s Hospital. Because from Kinnick Stadium we could see the kids in the hospital.
I think there will be few moments in my life that will compare to standing there, my dad’s arm draped over my shoulder as we, and thousands of other strangers, wave to the little superheroes in the hospital. We love you kiddos, and we believe in you. And from one former peds kid, thank you Carson King for your generosity in taking a joke and helping so many families. You are an Iowa legend.