View images of the ribbon cutting of Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph's End Zone at the University of Minnesota's Masonic Children's Hospital.
MINNEAPOLIS –Aaron and Brandi Basting were searching for hope this holiday season, and it walked through the door in the form of 6-foot-6 tight end.
Kyle Rudolph and his wife, Jordan, made their annual December visit to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital on Tuesday. While there, they made a handful of individual room visits, including a visit with 2-year-old Emma.
During conversation with the Rudolphs and Vikings receiver Michael Floyd, Aaron and Brandi shared that Emma was diagnosed with neuroblastoma last week.
Kyle is quite familiar with the specific type of cancer; his younger brother, Casey, was born with neuroblastoma but was declared cancer-free at 14 months old after treatment.
"[Casey's] now a 27-year-old maniac," Rudolph told the Bastings with a chuckle. "So you have a lot to look forward to."
Added Kyle: "He's the reason we've done so much for children's hospitals."
Although Emma was initially intimidated by the football players, she soon calmed and flashed sweet smiles at her guests.
Aaron and Brandi expressed how significant the visit was during an extremely difficult time.
"It means a lot," Aaron said. "This hit us so instantly. It was just a few days ago that we learned her problems [with walking were due to] a tumor on her spine, and it was neuroblastoma. To find that there are other people who have gotten through it, it's very encouraging."
Kyle was grateful for the chance to meet the Bastings and share some hope with them.
"To be able to share his story a little bit with them and share the successes that he and both our families lived and have gone through, to provide them with a little encouragement and something to look forward to [was special]," Kyle said.
Tuesday was a memorable day for Kyle all-around.
View images from Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph's Holiday Huddle.
In addition to his annual Holiday Huddle and the personal interaction with Emma and her family, Kyle and Jordan officially opened the Kyle Rudolph's End Zone, an interactive space at the children's hospital that was conceptualized more than two years ago.
"It's a dream come true – seeing our dreams become reality," Kyle said. "To be standing in it and see it come to life, I can't wait to get the patients and families in here. It's awesome right now and looks like a great space, but it's going to be even better when there's a bunch of kids running around and having a good time."
The End Zone offers a number of unique features, including a small kitchen area, indoor basketball hoop, digital sports simulator, sensory walk/area for patients with autism spectrum disorder or other behavior health conditions, and a CenturyLink Zone equipped with a television and video game consoles.
A lot of research, planning and design went into the construction of the space, and Kyle assured that it is one-of-a-kind.
"I'm so glad, we're so glad, that this space is here," Kyle said. "The Vikings have had a long, outstanding partnership with the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital, and we're so glad – we can't wait to see the patients, their families, in there using [the End Zone] and being kids. Without a space like this, these kids don't have the opportunity to escape the harsh reality of why they're here.
"From our teenagers all the way down to our toddlers, if we can make their stay here a little bit more enjoyable, then mission accomplished," Kyle emphasized.
Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, in addition to several hospital executives.
Dr. Abe Jacob, Chief Medical Officer at the U of M Masonic Children's Hospital, expressed gratitude to the Rudolph family and all of the corporate and individual donors – including Floyd – who also contributed to the project.
"At the University of Minnesota, parents can find everything they need right here. But keeping this kind of advanced care available requires special, ongoing commitment from our community," Jacob said. "Kyle and his remarkable wife, Jordan, have been a force since Kyle was drafted by the Vikings in 2011.
"As you know, on the field he's formidable and fierce," Jacob continued. "But what you may not know is that off the field, he uses that same drive and passion to personally make a difference in the lives of our patients. Kyle and Jordan's commitment is evident in all they do for our families."
Kyle gave a special thank-you to Jordan for her commitment alongside him at hospital visits for the past seven years. He also mentioned their 14-month-old twin daughters, Andersyn and Finley, and emphasized the way his perspective has changed since becoming a father.
"When you have kids of your own, it really puts into reality how quickly things can change," Kyle said. "You guys all see me as a big, tough football player … but I don't know that I'd be as strong as some of these patients and families that are here.
"I'm just extremely honored to have the platform to be able to come here and make a difference and impact these families' lives," he added.