By Grace Pateras
Keaton Ryken usually watches the Iowa football games on TV back home in Pella, Iowa.
But on Sept. 23, the 12-year-old watched the game live from a view 12 stories high overlooking Kinnick Stadium with his father, Mike.
Fewer than 24 hours before the game, Keaton’s mother gave birth to what doctors called a “miracle baby” because of Neil Arnie Ryken being born two months early.
The best view of Iowa City is reserved for children being treated, and their families, at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. The building is the tallest in Iowa City at 164 feet high.
In total, 18 patients and 110 family members gathered in the Press Box on Sept. 23. The viewing area was filled with snacks, giant foam fingers, glow sticks, a coloring station, and games like “bags,” giant Jenga, and foosball.
A giant TV screen displayed the same camera view as the Hawk Vision Jumbotron shown inside the stadium.
Many know about the fan-rooted tradition that started on Facebook — after the first quarter, fans turn to wave at the children watching from the neighboring building.
Because the game against Penn State was a night game, fans waved flashlights toward the windows instead.
And those behind the glass waved back with glow sticks and pressed painted poster signs to the windows.
But the Press Box isn’t the only spot in the hospital with a clear view of Kinnick.
“We have a pretty good view of the football field from our room,” said Andrea Myhre, mother of 4-year-old Dax Elbert. “We came up here to get him out of his room.”
Dax and his family found out Saturday morning that he has nephrotic syndrome, a kidney disorder that causes protein buildup in one’s urine.
Myhre, Dax, and father Josh Elbert arrived in Iowa City at 10 p.m. Sept. 22 after traveling 3.5 hours from their hometown of Algona, Iowa.
Dax originally went to a local ER for an allergic reaction Sept. 17, but when his legs started to swell a few days later, doctors suggested he be treated at the Children’s Hospital.
Now, Dax is on a low-sodium diet but was told he has a chance to go home today to reunite with his four siblings.
Aside from kids and families watching the game from the Press Box, student-athletes volunteer to hang out and interact with the kids.
“I love being around kids, and this is such a humble experience, seeing a smile on their faces,” said Julie Hollensbe, a Hawkeye sophomore on the cross-country and track & field teams.
Athletes are given a lot of choices to volunteer at different events throughout the year, and interacting with kids and families at the Children’s Hospital is one option. On Sept. 23, there were five student-athlete volunteers.
Continued support from the UI Athletics Department helps make the Press Box possible.
Kirk Ferentz, the head football coach, and wife Mary are well-known supporters of the Children’s Hospital.
In August, the couple made a $1 million donation to support neonatal research.
“Iowa’s neonatologists are committed and are already leading the way for these little babies,” said Mary Ferentz in a press release after the announcement.
In addition to the monetary donation, football players often make appearances in the hospital to visit with kids and families.
The Kid Captain program, which started in 2008, honors a child undergoing treatment at the Children’s Hospital for each game. The kids are able to interact with the team and watch the game from the sidelines.
The new Children’s Hospital first admitted patients in February. Construction had began in 2012.
The hospital is funded through bonds, patient revenue, and private gifts. No tax dollars were used, according to the official website, and the facility cost approximately $360 million to build.
The Press Box is only open during football games and special events, but other features on the floor that are open all the time include a meditation room and a healing garden.
“The Rooftop [Floor 12] has been designed as a calm oasis — a place where patients, families, visitors, and employees can unwind and reflect,” the hospital’s website said. “Comfortable furniture, colorful carpeting, and well-tended gardens will work together to create a soothing atmosphere away from patient floors.”
For Keaton Ryken, the 12-year-old from Pella, he specifically likes to cheer on the three Hawkeye players from his hometown — freshman Noah Clayberg (No. 33), sophomore Garret Jansen (53), and red-shirt freshman Austin Schulte (74).
Clayberg notched a solo tackle during the Penn State game after Iowa’s first possession of the third quarter.