MINNEAPOLIS –It's been a challenging month for the Vikings, but a visit to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital Tuesday reshaped things for a group of teammates.
"In the midst of a tough stretch of the season, you get down here and spend time with the kids and their families at the hospital, and it reminds you of what's really important in life," tight end Kyle Rudolph said. "For us to come down here and put a smile on a kid's face and make his family's day, especially when they're here during the holidays, it means a ton to us."
Rudolph hosted a Thanksgiving celebration for patients and their families, during which they could mingle with the Vikings guests in the lobby of the hospital, take photos and receive autographs. Rudolph was joined by teammates Sam Bradford, Xavier Rhodes, Brandon Fusco, Rhett Ellison, Zac Kerin, Nick Easton, Kentrell Brothers and Cedric Thompson. Viktor the Viking and Vikings alumni Ryan Hoag, Rickey Young and Bob Lurtsema also participated in the festivities.
Some patients who were unable to leave their rooms were treated to individual visits, and Rudolph and Bradford traveled the length of the hematology and oncology floor. In a couple of rooms, patients surprised Bradford and Rudolph, whose birthdays were on Nov. 8 and Nov. 9, respectively, with handmade cards.
"You can tell, going through the cards, that the kids spent a lot of time, and a lot of effort went into them," Rudolph said with a smile. "So I know both Sam and I were really appreciative."
The teammates were happy on their final stop of the afternoon to meet the self-proclaimed "Minnesota's biggest sports fan," 13-year-old Preston Tienter.
After being born in complete renal failure, Preston is no stranger to lengthy hospital stays. He underwent his first kidney transplant at 14 months old. Six years later, his body began showing signs of rejection.
One year ago, Preston had a complete bladder reconstruction, and in July of 2016 he started dialysis.
Kyle Rudolph held his 'Thanksgiving Huddle' event at the U of M's Masonic Children's Hospital.
"We were told that it was going to be a complete miracle to even find a kidney for Preston," said his mother, Amanda. "He was only going to match about three percent of the country, so we were told it would be years, if ever."
After only five months of being on dialysis, however, Preston and his family received the call that changed their lives forever: a matching kidney had been located in Washington.
"We never thought we would see this day," Amanda said. "We found our needle in the haystack. This kidney is truly a miracle."
Preston underwent kidney transplant surgery on Nov. 8 and has been recovering well.
He was all smiles when Rudolph and Bradford entered his room, which was decorated with purple and yellow streamers and a Vikings banner that hung over his bed. Preston has attended a couple of Vikings games at U.S. Bank Stadium this season, including the Lions matchup just two days before his transplant.
"He loves the Vikings," Amanda said. "Even if they're losing and not looking their best, he always says, 'Mom, it's OK. It's not over 'til it's over.'
"I love that," she added. "Even with everything he's gone through, he can still find that light."
Amanda said she couldn't believe the graciousness of the two teammates to come and visit with Preston, who told Rudolph and Bradford that he loved hunting as much as he loved football. Within a couple of minutes, Bradford and Preston were deep in conversation, comparing photos on their phone of recent hunting trips.
"For them to come in and talk hunting with Preston was amazing," Amanda said. "And to see them interact on a personal level and be totally comfortable."
Bradford, who also participated in Rudolph's Halloween Huddle at the hospital last month, said that coming to visit with patients and their families has been near to his heart since college.
"I think it does more for me than it does for them," Bradford said. "It definitely puts things in perspective. When you talk to some of the parents and hear their stories and what they're going through, you just feel for them, and you pray for them. It just gives you greater perspective on what's going on in your life."
Rudolph said he was impacted by their time with Preston because he enjoyed the few minutes in which Preston was able to "just be a kid" and talk about his experiences with two of his favorite players. He and his wife, Jordan, are working to raise funds for "Kyle Rudolph's End Zone," an area of the hospital specifically set aside for patients and their families to have a comfortable area to enjoy.
"We want them to be able to be kids," Rudolph said. "A lot of these kids just don't have the opportunity to get out of the hospital. So if we can come here and spend time with them, it makes a difference."