MINNEAPOLIS – Kyle Rudolph isn't unaccustomed to seeing his name on signs made by fans or marketing messages.
But on Tuesday, one simple sign especially touched Kyle's heart when he walked into a patient room at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital: "Welcome Back Mr. Rudolph!"
Kyle and his wife, Jordan, first met Jovie Jean DeFrang at their 2017 Halloween Huddle. There, they learned about Jovie's story from her mother, Lindsie, and stayed in contact with the family. Jordan follows Jovie's progress via her Facebook page, and she and Kyle appreciate any time they can reunite with the mother and daughter at the hospital. Although, they'd much prefer that Jovie be able to go home.
Jovie will turn 2 years old in January, and the only "home" she's known is her hospital room and occasional stays at the nearby Ronald McDonald House. Décor surrounding her bed included an autographed, purple Rudolph jersey; photos of Jovie with Rudolph and other Minnesota athletes; a Vikings football and a Rudolph bobblehead.
Lindsie explained that the hope is Jovie will soon be able to leave the hospital and transition to at-home care.
"Then you'll be nice and comfy," Kyle told Jovie, reaching down to touch her hand.
"I think you've gotten bigger each time we come back," he told the little girl who's just a few months younger than his twin daughters.
While it's been difficult to have been uprooted from North Dakota and spend nearly two years at the hospital, Lindsie expressed repeatedly and genuinely how grateful she is for the Rudolphs.
"Some days get harder than others," Lindsie said. "But having [Kyle and Jordan] come in and just take time out of their day to say hi and see how you're doing, give you a hug, it brightens your day no matter what's going on."
"The fact that he's using his platform to help other people just lets you know what kind of a guy he is," Lindsie added. "It means a lot knowing they're taking time out of their busy day with practice, games, everything else, [and they've] always been genuine about it, too. Jordan, when she came in, said, 'We saw your updates and have been thinking about you.' It's just the kind of people they are. They're amazing."
Lindsie's feelings were echoed by another parent down the hallway.
Kyle and Jordan stopped by to visit 15-year-old Jevon, who is a big Vikings fan. He chatted with the tight end about high school and how he hopes to be able to return to the track team next year.
Jevon's father, James Lenoir, Jr., said that Kyle is an inspiration to "all kids and even adults." He grew emotional as he spoke about the impact Kyle has made.
"It means the world," James said. "Seeing somebody of that caliber take the time to actually show kids love and affection and show them that they actually matter, even when they may feel like they're at their low, it's a lot.
"They just came off a tough loss, and they have a tough game ahead of them this Sunday [against the Packers]. And it's like, 'Man, it's midweek and you're here,' " James said. "For what he's doing, I give him nothing but props. … He's an angel, honestly. That's what his character says to me."
The Rudolphs' room visits were part of their annual Thanksgiving Holiday Huddle, a party held in the hospital's lobby for patients who are able to leave their rooms.
Kyle was joined by teammates Mackensie Alexander, George Iloka, Aviante Collins, Brett Jones, Devante Downs and Ade Aruna, as well as Vikings Legends Stu Voigt, Dave Osborn and Rickey Young. Viktor the Viking and Vikings Cheerleaders also participated in the festivities.
The patients and their families were able to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal, get autographs from and take photos with the Vikings players and even meet some therapy dogs that were on hand.
"Obviously they're here because they're not able to get out of the hospital for the holidays, so [we want] to bring the holidays to them and bring a little bit of cheer and joy in their lives," Kyle said. "Obviously around the time of Thanksgiving we think about all the things we have to be thankful for. You're really reminded of that when you come down here and spend time with the patients and their families."