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For the children and families in the UI Stead Family Children's Hospital including 6-year-old Will Kohn, the end of the first quarter marks the beginning of their brief escape from the hospital walls. This is Wills story. Brian Powers/Des Moines Register

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It started as a conversation in 2015. Two years later, a text. Then a meeting.

Next thing these three Des Moines mothers knew, 15,000 shirts had been sold with the intent to be worn at Saturday's 2:30 p.m. Iowa football game vs. third-ranked Ohio State. They're ways to say thank you and to donate money to the University of Iowa Children's Hospital, its patients and their families.

But why go through all this work to raise funds? Brooke Mickelson, Meighan Phillips and Lori Willis have special connections to the hospital. The process has gone beyond themselves, and even the 70,000-plus fans expected at Kinnick Stadium.

They'll be the first to acknowledge as much.

"Iowans are making an impact by just being Iowans," Willis told the Des Moines Register. "It's just an amazing thing to see so much good and so much compassion."

The Mickelson family

John and Brooke Mickelson's youngest of four sons, Hunter, was treated for 2½ weeks at the Children's Hospital in 2015. He was diagnosed with nephrogenic diabetes insipidus — a life-threatening kidney-related condition. 

Although he's back living at home today, Hunter is seen monthly by a team of doctors in Iowa City.

"They 100 percent saved his life," Brooke Mickelson told the Register. "That hospital, not only did they take care of Hunter, they took care of me and my husband and our family.

"They let us know everything would be OK."

John is a former Hawkeye football player and current West Des Moines city councilman. Brooke is a former Miss Iowa USA. They both attended Iowa. 

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The Phillips family

Cy and Meighan Phillips have four children. One of them, Genevieve, developed a life-threatening illness last summer after contracting E.coli.

Doctors in Des Moines told the Phillipses that Genevieve had hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can lead to life-threatening kidney failure.

"As soon as her lab work came back, the supervising doctor came and hugged me and said: 'We can't care for her here,'" Meighan Phillips told the Register.

RELATED: The Iowa Wave through a child's eyes

Genevieve was rushed to UIHC. Twelve doctors met the Phillips family late in the night, "ready to figure out what the best plan was for her care," Meighan Phillips said.

She was treated for one week and is healthy today. Genevieve will be watched closely until she's 15 for any potential chronic kidney damage, her mother said.

"The team there were incredible. They saved her," Meighan Phillips said. 

Cy is also a former Hawkeye football player. Meighan also attended Iowa. Brooke and Meighan were part of the same sorority.

The Willis family, and the shirt

Lori Willis acknowledged she's astonished by the sheer amount of "feel-good stories" that have developed since Iowa football's new tradition — the Hawkeye Wave — began.

The Children's Hospital sits right next to Kinnick, with its top floor featuring floor-to-ceiling windows and providing a perfect view of Hawkeye games for patients and families.

After every first quarter, everyone inside the stadium turns around and waves up to the hospital. Inside, patients and their families wave back. 

Levi Thompson first promoted the idea of a fundraiser on his Hawkeye fan page after Krista Young of Anita suggested something could be done.

Willis, her husband, Jason, and one of their sons were there Sept. 2 when Iowa hosted Wyoming — the Hawkeyes' season-opener and first day of the Hawkeye Wave. She remembers telling her son what they'd be doing and what it symbolized.

"Just to see everyone rally together was so moving and so emotional," Willis said of the atmosphere at Kinnick.

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The idea of "doing more" actually became a talking point during a conversation two years ago, when Brooke Mickelson and Meighan Phillips chatted about Hunter and the level of care he received in Iowa City.

"I just know that this is going to come back and you're going to do something
good with this," Phillips told Mickelson.

Fast-forward to 2017. The Phillipses watched that Sept. 2 game from their couch. Meighan Phillips told her husband how she thought more could be done to assist the kids at the Children's Hospital.

Willis texted Phillips on her way home that evening, asking to come over. The pair brainstormed ideas and wanted to somehow associate it with the Hawkeye Wave. Willis said the women scoured the internet to see if a T-shirt already existed.

To their surprise, there wasn't. The women immediately got to work and looped Mickelson in.

The Iowa Wave T-shirt soon became a reality.

"One of the cool things about this whole Wave shirt is to have two families involved that have been directly impacted by it," Willis said. "As somebody that hasn't been affected by the hospital — to be able to be along with the rest of the community and want to help — it just speaks volumes.

"It's all about everyone coming together and really wanting to do something for  
a hospital that's making a lot of difference in a lot of lives."

In one week, the mothers developed a hand-drawn logo and teamed up with a local design shop. They've also worked closely with the UI Foundation.

"Our whole point of doing this was to build community," Willis explained. "Not just for the
hospital, but for the entire state."

An adult-sized shirt — ranging from extra-small to 3XL — costs $30, and it's $18 for a youth top. Along with the black and gold color scheme, there's also a cardinal and gold-themed shirt for Iowa State fans (WHO-TV's Keith Murphy can be thanked for that idea, Willis said.)

Here's what the T-shirt looks like:

Additionally, there are hoodies available for $28 (kids) and $50 (adults).

'Little things along the way really take your breath away'

All of the profit from sales will be donated to the Children's Hospital, the families said.

About 15,000 shirts have been sold so far, Willis said, and more than $250,000 has been raised through sales.

The apparel will still be available to purchase after Saturday's game. Willis said they'll continue to be sold "for a short time, until at least Nov. 19." 

Then, once money stops funneling in for apparel, a check will be presented publicly to the Children's Hospital.

Every Iowa football fan has reasons why they're looking forward to Saturday's game. Maybe it's the idea of a potential upset, or maybe it's because spectators are participating in the annual "Blackout." 

But for Mickelson, Phillips and Willis, they never imagined game-day Saturdays to turn into "a whole 'nother level."

"We want the kids, most importantly, to know we are rooting for them and behind
them 100 percent," Mickelson said. "Little things along the way really take your breath away.

"Kinnick is a special place, but to say Saturday will be special — that's a big understatement."

You can learn more information about the T-shirts at theiowawaveshirt.org.

Saturday's game

  • WHO: No. 3 Ohio State (7-1, 5-0 Big Ten Conference) at Iowa (5-3, 2-3)
  • TIME: 2:30 p.m.
  • TV: ESPN
  • LINE: Ohio State by 17½

Aaron Young is a reporter at The Des Moines Register, focusing on what Iowans are talking about on the internet and on social media. You can follow @AaYoung15 on Twitter and on Facebook: Facebook.com/AaronYoung28.

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