Embracing the Summer of a Lifetime: QC Pediatric Cancer Survivor Lives Big on and Off the Field
Summer childhood memories are made of simple pleasures: sleeping in, playing outdoors with friends, day camps, sports practices, jumping through sprinklers, or even tossing a football with the big guys. Yet, while these are the typical memories most families and kids take for granted, the McKearney’s are truly embracing the summer of 2022 for the first time.
“In March of 2019 when Hudson was 23 months old, I noticed some unusual bruising,” recalls Jessica McKearney, a Park View mother of two. “I immediately suspected leukemia, called the pediatrician, and requested bloodwork.”
Jessica’s foreboding was not just that of a worried mother, but as a Certified Nurse Practitioner at ORA Orthopedics, who also understands the power of parental concern. “Never doubt your instincts,” she affirms.
The following day her fears proved valid when Hudson was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), a childhood blood cancer. “I remember calling ORA and telling my supervisor that my husband, Kyle, and I were on the road taking Hudson to the University of Iowa. I also remember telling her I wasn’t sure I’d be back.”
In the ensuing 36 months, Hudson underwent rounds of aggressive chemotherapy at the Stead Family Children’s Hospital, played with his new baby sister named Violet, all while enduring the added social isolation of the pandemic.
“For the first three years of both of our children’s lives, we were truly isolated. Hudson was immunocompromised, so between the cancer and the pandemic, we all lived at home.
“None of this was normal, except for our kids, whose early childhoods were defined by Hudson’s cancer treatments. It’s all they knew. I could hear them playing, giving their bald Lego figurines and dolls ‘blood transfusions and spinal injections!’ Even to this day, Violet tells me she wants to be an oncologist when she grows up, and it wouldn’t surprise me!”
Summer 2022: Let the Games Begin
Fast forward to the summer of 2022: Hudson is in remission and ready to embrace summer with all the childhood gusto and enthusiasm in his post-cancer and pandemic world. His big debut for his first outing without chemotherapy came at the Rally for Reid Football Camp held at Assumption High School.
The event featured former Iowa Hawkeye and NFL players such as LA Rams’ Safety, Jake Gervase, home after a Super Bowl win along with other former Hawkeyes and current Assumption players. Kids of all ages enjoyed running drills, tackling dummies, and getting a whole lot of encouragement and high-five inspiration.
The Rally for Reid Foundation was created by the Megan and Bill Gleeson Family, who lost their own young son to a brain tumor at age five. The Foundation raises awareness and funds to support childhood cancer research and provides financial support to families experiencing the emotional and financial stress of a child’s cancer journey.
“The cause is just so cool. The Gleeson family has helped us, and they are incredible. I am in awe of their strength. We brought Hudson to the event, not knowing what to expect. He took off for the field and didn’t look back. He was a kid like everyone else. It was great watching him and we are just so grateful.
“ORA has truly rallied around my family. From the moment I called my manager, everyone at the practice has been incredibly supportive and grown to mean so much to us over these past three years. We are so blessed.”
Tackling Pediatric Cancer
ORA Orthopedics sponsored both the event and Hudson’s entry in the camp. Sports Medicine Surgeon, Dr. Andrew Bries, who is not only a colleague of Jessica’s, but Gervase’s former Assumption team and personal physician, volunteered as team doctor for the event to ensure all the participants stayed safe.
“It’s really fun to see kids interacting with pro athletes,” says Dr. Bries. “I remember as a student at University of Iowa participating in the Dance Marathon to raise money for the Stead Children’s Hospital. I remain proud to be an Iowan and to see how grounded these football players are by giving back. They realize that sports is more important than just big name contracts — that it’s also an opportunity to use their fame to help others.
“I’ve watched Jake grow as a player and a strong role model. He’s actually the one who asked me to volunteer for the rally, and it’s been such a privilege. It’s awesome to see what he’s accomplished professionally, but more importantly, how he and other players come back home to inspire kids and give back to the community.”
Following the rally, on its Facebook page, the Foundation declared a resounding success: “We hope everyone had THE BEST TIME at football camp and spirit camp! These events RAISED a total of $90,631.25!!!! Incredible! Thank you to all of you for attending our camps yesterday! We loved seeing all the excited kiddos and smiling faces! About 750 smiling faces. THANK YOU!
As for the McKearney’s, the event has kicked off a new season of hope, joy, and laughter. “Hudson remains in remission, and his numbers are stable. We are so embracing this summer. We are filled with gratitude for our University of Iowa doctors, ORA, and the Quad City community for supporting our family.”