IOWA CITY — Friday was the day before Benjamin Mundy’s third birthday and he spent it in an all-too-familiar setting — the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
He was born with spina bifida, when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly, and his life has been measured in regular trips for care from his home in Des Moines to Iowa City. The driving and waiting and poking and prodding can be hard and boring and stressful.
But books help. Cartoons distract. Stuffed animals provide comfort. And games offer escape.
Child-life specialists at the UI know that, and so does Chad Greenway — a former Iowa Hawkeye football standout who went on to play for the Minnesota Vikings. He and his wife, Jenni Greenway, visited the Children’s Hospital on Friday to open their foundation’s eighth “Chad’s Locker.”
The thought is to stuff a “locker” — or mobile cart — full of iPads, DVD players, laptops and Xboxes that can meet kids wherever they are in the hospital and divert their attention toward something more fun during periods of treatment and recovery.
“Unfortunate circumstances bring you in here, and you obviously know you’re going to get great care, but you come to find it’s not just the kid that’s going through treatment but also the siblings,” Chad Greenway said. “So to have a place you can get away and be distracted is really nice.”
While watching his son swipe through screens Wednesday on a Chad’s Locker iPad, Benjamin’s dad, Nathan Mundy, said these types of kid-centered amenities do more than words can articulate.
“It’s so great,” Mundy said. “Because he can’t entertain himself quite yet.”
Earlier in the day, Benjamin endured an ultrasound seamlessly thanks to “The Lion Guard” playing on an in-room TV.
“He loved it,” Mundy said. “It was so easy to put him through it.”
Greenway, who played for Iowa from 2002 to 2005 then jumped to the NFL until officially retiring last year, started with his wife their “Lead the Way Foundation” in 2008. The foundation — focused on supporting critically or chronically ill kids across Minnesota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa — supports several different programs like the locker initiative, which started in 2012 at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital.
Other lockers have followed in hospitals in the Twin Cities, Wisconsin and South Dakota.
“This one makes a lot of sense,” Greenway said after watching three of his four daughters cut a ribbon on the locker in the UI hospital. “This is where it all started.”
The locker commitment isn’t tied to a specific dollar amount but rather the initial build-out and electronics, which are maintained and updated regularly.
Greenway, who plans on staying in town for this weekend’s Hawkeye home opener in neighboring Kinnick Stadium, followed his locker dedication with hospital room visits Friday — which he said are both hard, in seeing kids battling illness, and rewarding in his ability to bring them some sliver of joy.
“If you can put a smile on a kid’s face just for a brief moment, it’s just a great feeling,” Greenway said. “It’s knowing you took just a small time to give them something else to talk about for the day that’s not the same monotonous conversation about their health.”
Before heading to the rooms, he chatted with parents — who acknowledged they’d rather not be there but were glad to have any help they could get while they were.
“You just know this could be you tomorrow,” Greenway said. “There’s nothing that separates you from the kids sitting in that room. That could be us at any point, and we realize that the more of these things that we do.”
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