Iowa Hawkeyes fans began a heart-warming new tradition on Sept. 2 by standing to wave at the children who are watching from University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital.
IOWA CITY, Ia. – Analiese Chapman has spent half of her 18 years in the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
She’ll be there again Saturday, in her room on the 10th floor with a magnificent view down onto Kinnick Stadium. The cystic fibrosis she was diagnosed with at 5 days old has prevented her from ever making it through an entire Iowa football game in person, but she’ll be watching intently when the Hawkeyes kick off at 2:30 p.m. against North Texas.
If you’re in the stadium, you might look up and see a hand-drawn poster in Chapman’s window. It will be a message of devotion for her favorite team. And a thank you to the 65,000-plus fellow fans for what she knows is coming at the conclusion of the first quarter.
Two weeks ago, the Hawkeye faithful showed how far a simple gesture can reach when they stood en masse and waved to the children whose faces were pressed up against the glass on the top floors of the new children’s hospital. It was an organic movement, spread by word of mouth and social media, that quickly earned national acclaim and figures to become a staple at Iowa home games for perpetuity.
Chapman wasn’t there that day. But she watched the Hawkeyes beat Wyoming from her Le Claire home. And she saw what Iowa fans did.
“It was really touching because we’re all stuck up here for a really long time and have really bad things going on,” Chapman said this week. “And just everybody kind of goes about their day and does their own thing. But it’s really nice to know that (fans) know that there are kids up here battling CF and diabetes and cancer, and that they recognize that not everybody’s life is easy like theirs.”
The Hawkeye fan wave was featured in media from ESPN to the Washington Post. It was promoted in June by Levi Thompson, who pushed the idea of the first-quarter wave on his Hawkeyes fan page after a reader of his site named Krista Young wondered if something could be done at football games to acknowledge the young patients in the shimmering 12-story hospital that opened in February, just east of Kinnick. She suggested a minute-long wave to them.
The idea gained steam all summer, and by the season-opening game Sept. 2, many children and their families gathered on the top floor to watch the game eagerly waited for the moment. Other parents chose to let their children be surprised when 68,075 fans suddenly turned and lifted their heads and hands to wave. The fans did so unprompted at first, and then repeated the greeting after the stadium announcer suggested it aloud.
“It’s really hard to have anything to compare to that,” said Gwen Senio, manager of the Child Life program and a 37-year employee of the children’s hospital. “It’s part of our healing environment for our patients and families, something to take their mind off their worry for their child.”
The 12th floor is typically open to the public, but on game days two security guards make sure only patients and their families are allowed into the viewing area. From there, you can see the field as clearly as if you’re in the top row of Kinnick. Children who are too tired to head upstairs can still see parts of the field from their 10th- or 11th-floor rooms, if they’re facing west.
If you’re at Saturday’s game and are wondering who it is that’s waving back at you, here are the stories of three patients who find themselves occupying one of the 190 rooms this week.
Analiese Chapman, 18, Le Claire
This has been a tough summer for Chapman. And the previous 17 were no picnic either.
She counted 57 days in the hospital from March to August alone, with her 18th birthday mixed in there in April. After a month at home, as she was about to take the final tests to earn her GED, her cystic fibrosis flared up again and Chapman drove herself to the hospital in her well-traveled green Chevrolet S-10 pickup.
It’s been the pattern of her life, and Chapman has had no choice but to grow accustomed to it. At the hospital, she gets steroids and heavy-duty antibiotics and a chance to catch her breath. After she returns home, it’s just a matter of time before the weather or allergy season causes her airways to constrict and clog up with mucus. Then it’s another one-hour drive west to Iowa City, where Chapman is on a first-name basis with practically the hospital's entire staff.
“When I was little, I was always scared to come in. I never wanted to come here because of the needles, and I didn’t know anybody,” Chapman said. “Now that I’m 18, I can admit myself, and my mom and dad both had to work so I just came over and was like, ‘Hey guys! What’s up?’”
Chapman will be allowed to stay on the pediatrics floor until she’s 21, she said. And that’s exactly what she intends to do. The doctors, nurses and child life specialists have become lifelong friends.
Chapman estimated she has had 33 surgeries over the years, on her sinuses, abdomen and even to allow for peripherally inserted central catheter lines to be installed to feed her medicine.
“It’s tough,” her mother, Heather Chapman said, her voice cracking. “Because you want your kids to go and do the normal things, go on dates and go to prom. And she’s missed out on all that because we’re always here.”
Analiese can speak about cystic fibrosis with such precision that you would think she’s reading from a medical text. She said the idea of becoming a doctor once appealed to her, but her immune system doesn’t allow her to spend time around sick people.
She’s finishing up her GED at Scott Community College, where she also has a part-time job she loves. After that, she hopes to study business administration, needing a profession that will allow her to work from home.
First, there’s Saturday’s football game, the first one she will get to watch in person. She tried going to one when she was younger, but was too ill to make it all the way through.
Chapman will have family friends in the stands, and they know which window is hers. Just in case, she was making plans Wednesday to come up with a sign to put in the window.
“I’m really excited for it,” Chapman said. “I’m a diehard Hawkeye fan, absolutely love ‘em.”
Kaden Kelso, 12, Newton
Kelso is infectiously upbeat for a child who is about to have a tumor removed from his lung. He bounced around his 10th-floor room Wednesday, days ahead of surgery, excitedly telling visitors all the procedure's details.
“I’m going to be a doctor. I’ve got this,” Kelso said as he took a red marker to a white drawing board and noted where a tumor was blocking much of the airway to his left lung.
“They’re going to take this entire lobe out, and they’re going to cut open my back. They’re going to break one of my ribs and they’re going to cut right here and right here,” he continued, sparing no grisly detail.
“I’m not nervous at all.”
The surgery will keep Kelso in the hospital for another week with a chest tube to help him breathe. He’ll miss another two to three weeks of school after that, and then gradually be able to resume his normal activities. He’s hoping to be ready for football season next fall.
His problems began with a bout of pneumonia last February. When the illness returned this summer, doctors grew concerned and found what appeared to be a foreign object in his lung. In Des Moines, it was discovered to be a tumor, and Kelso was immediately shipped to the UI Children’s Hospital. The surgery will reveal whether it is cancerous.
While Kelso is taking everything in stride, spending his days roaming the hallways and mingling with staff, his mother, Mindi Noel, has had a tougher time with the sudden medical setback for the middle of her five children.
“When the surgeons came in and talked in detail about the surgery, I didn’t know it was going to be as intense as it is, so I had another little meltdown after that,” Noel said. “And now we’re smooth sailing, good to go.
“Kaden’s strength is really amazing. He wants to be healthy, he wants to play football, he wants to get this behind him. And there’s only one way to do that.”
Kelso was hoping to meet Iowa wide receiver Nick Easley this week. They share a Newton hometown, and Kelso even plays receiver on his youth team. Kelso baked Easley an apple pie – one of the many group activities hospital staff arrange for the children – with the No. 1 carved into the top.
But Easley was battling strep throat and couldn’t make it. Perhaps next week, Kelso said.
In the meantime, Kelso has journeyed up to the 12th floor about 15 times, looking at the stadium, getting ready for Saturday. National media outlets are scheduled to be there to document the next performance of the Kinnick wave.
“I’m going to be on ESPN, and they’re going to interview me,” Kelso declared.
“I won’t have stage fright or anything.”
True Mills, 16, Dubuque
Mills’ childhood has been marked by varied interests – tennis, golf, theater, photography and the guitar among them. He pursued all of his passions in good health.
He wasn’t alarmed when he felt an ache in his jaw. When he started feeling tired, Mills chalked it up to the flu, or thought maybe he had overdone it during one of his daily workouts at the local YMCA.
Then his chin went numb. Mills grew scared.
An MRI revealed a lesion next to his pituitary gland. That meant a trip to the UI Children’s Hospital. On Aug. 1, Mills was relieved to finally get a diagnosis – Burkitt’s lymphoma. He has been in the hospital for all but six days ever since.
“I thought it could be something much worse,” Mills said Wednesday in his 11th-floor room.
Burkitt’s is the most common lymphoma among children and can typically be treated with chemotherapy. Mills said his first session cleared up the jaw pain.
His second session left him too weary to go up to the 12th floor and watch the Iowa-Wyoming game two weeks ago. But he knew the wave was coming and saw some of the fans from his room. He also was delighted to see the reaction of a 3-year-old girl on his floor, all decked out in her Hawkeye gear.
“I’m 16, so it’s not as emotional for me, but I think it’s awesome to see all the little kids get the attention,” Mills said. “Especially the really young passionate Hawkeye fans that were out there.”
Mills has four rounds of chemo left and is hoping to be rid of his lymphoma by Christmastime and maybe even back on the golf course come May.
But he’s going to be very sick in the meantime. He gets sores in his mouth and a scratchy throat that makes it difficult for him to talk. He vomits sometimes. He shaved his head because he knew that hair loss was inevitable.
Mills landed back in the hospital this week because his white blood cell count dropped. He was already looking forward to watching Iowa play Penn State on Sept. 23 – his third round of chemo – but now the North Texas tilt will be the first Hawkeye game he can witness in person.
The 2-0 Hawkeyes welcome North Texas to Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.
Two friends from school had some gray wristbands made with an inspirational message. They’re selling them for $2 apiece, and Mills will decide on a charity to donate the proceeds to.
“I don’t really like stuff with my name on it,” Mills said, twirling a band in his fingers, a stocking cap on his head.
The message reads: “No one fights alone. True Mills.”
True words. Hawkeye fans will get a chance to show him that Saturday afternoon.
Thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows in the Press Box Cafe in new University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital, kids and their families get a great view of Kinnick Stadium below, and on game days, they're treated to a special new tradition.