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Patients Anticipate "Hawkeye Wave" At Iowa Football Opener

"It means everything" as parents and patients anticipate the Hawkeye Wave at the Iowa football opener where it brings hope to healing kids.
Nicole and Andy Knapp’s perspectives have completely shifted.

About this time last year, the two had just found out they were pregnant with their first child. They were thrilled. It was football season. Life was good.

Like so many Americans, they watched as University of Iowa fans were recognized nationally for what is now known as the Hawkeye Wave, when spectators turn from the Kinnick Stadium field at the end of the first quarter to wave at young patients staying on the top floors of the UI Stead Family Children's Hospital.

Despite their University of Northern Iowa roots, they loved it. They just didn't imagine they’d soon be on the other side of that glass, looking out.

Saturday’s season opener against Northern Illinois marks their 113th day at UI Stead — a four-month-long roller coaster of waiting, panicking, celebrating, learning and praying.

Baby Kaeli was born with a rare congenital heart defect, which doctors diagnosed on Valentine’s Day, shortly after her 20-week appointment.

“We were just devastated,” Nicole said. Telling their families was nearly impossible, she recalled.

“All the hopes and dreams you have for your first child just get ripped away from you,” Andy said.

Because of the gravity of Kaeli’s condition, Nicole was rushed by ambulance to Stead from her local hospital in Cedar Falls when her water broke in the wee hours of May 11. Kaeli was born at 9:35 a.m., then whisked away to the neonatal intensive care unit.

It would be 30 hours before Nicole, 23, and Andy, 29, held their baby for the first time.

Today, Kaeli’s busy healing. She’s had four open-heart surgeries, and will have at least three more in coming years, to replace her pulmonary artery as she grows.

She’s like a turtle, her parents say — slow and steady on her path, and likely to win the race. In the meantime, dad reads to her often. Princess books, superhero books, Berenstain Bears. All of her nurses, doctors and surgeons have signed her copy of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”

The Knapps could go home as early as late October.

“Well, then, thank God there are four more home games before then,” Andy said with a smile, gazing out the hospital window over Kinnick Stadium.

The Hawkeye Wave

At the end of every home game's first quarter, since last season’s kickoff, tens of thousands of fans have joined the Hawkeye Wave.

It’s a visually stunning sea of hands, and an awe-inspiring reminder for everyone inside that people see them and care about them.

During last September’s game against North Texas, Wyatt Hemphill sat up in his bed that was pushed up against the window. Then 4 years old and battling a rare immune deficiency called PIK3CD, Wyatt was in a lot of pain the first time he saw the wave, his dad remembers.

“He was not too fond to do anything that day, but the nurse helped him wave back, and he thought it was really cool,” Brandon Hemphill said. “He smiled."

“We’ll have the game on and he’ll say, ‘they’re waving at me!’ and waves back and giggles,” Brandon said. “It’s just awesome.”

The Hawkeye Wave quickly became a movement, detailed from every angle by local and national press alike. The attention culminated in a stirring ceremony where teary longtime head coach Kirk Ferentz, star player Josh Jackson and former Stead Hospital patient Kaden Kelso accepted the Disney Sports’ Spirit Award on behalf of the hospital.

But neither the hospital nor the university had anything to do with its start. A woman named Krista Young first had the idea and wrote about it on Facebook. She didn't know what to expect, so she filmed the end of the first quarter on her phone.

Slowly, the crowd began to catch on, and soon everyone in sight was waving up at the top of the hospital.

“It’s working!” she squeals in the video, now shared to Facebook.

"When I thought about 'the wave,' I was thinking about how it would brighten up the day for the kids," Young said. "But know I’m amazed at how it’s had such a heartwarming effect on everyone."

Original article by Des Moines Register
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