Gordon’s Hospital Provides Care For Children – And A Revelation F
It was just another day at the hospital, or so I thought.
I had just finished one more go-around – lay down on a table, face and head covered with a contraption that made me look like the “Man In The Iron Mask” and listen to the hum of a machine shooting invisible rays into my neck.
The treatment never hurt but after a while the side effects were intense.
This time, for some reason, the procedure wasn’t as routine as it had been.
As usual my throat was sore, it hurt to swallow and my mouth was dry. But, unusually, my spirits were low. I was depressed where once I had been upbeat and confident.
I thought to myself, “How did it come to this? Why me?”
I took the elevator up to the first floor – they poisoned me in the basement – and my eyes caught the words, “Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital.”
I had seen them before, many times in fact, but never paid them any attention. Why would I?
I paused for a moment before I felt the strange compulsion to see that place. I was lured like metal to a magnet. I really don’t know why.
I took the elevator up a flight, stepped off and found my way to the facility. It was modern and well appointed. If I hadn’t known what it was I would have never thought it was a place where sick children received treatment. It looked more like the offices of a high-priced law firm.
I looked around a bit and then something compelled me to be an interloper. I ignored any rules about visitors as I sauntered down a hall and stole quick glances into a couple of rooms.
I’m sure I was noticed. But no one seemed to mind.
It took only those few peeks to tell me why I had come. It wasn’t simple curiosity or to comfort children by any means. It was to comfort myself.
“You gutless wonder,” I said to myself. “What do you have to worry about? You think you have it bad? These kids are just getting started in life and have to overcome a hell of a lot more than you do.
“And think about what their parents must be going through.”
When I left, I resolved to do a couple of things. I would no longer feel sorry for myself – which I never did – and I would learn more about the hospital that bore the name of the four-time NASCAR champion.
I learned that the hospital was part of the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation, which was created in 1999 with the mission to support children battling cancer by funding programs that offered treatment, with the goal of improving the patient’s quality of life.
The hospital, located in Concord, N.C., was opened in December of 2006 to serve children in the community with a high level of primary and specialty care, regardless of their ability to pay.
I didn’t know any of that.
Beyond the hospital, the foundation has donated $10 million to the most recognized children’s health and support organizations. Among them are the Children’s Oncology Group/CureSearch, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Speedway Children’s Charities and the Victory Junction Camp.
Cancer is the leading disease-killer of children in the United States. Nearly 13,500 children are diagnosed with it each year.
I didn’t know that, either.
But I do know Gordon. And I thought I would talk to him about his foundation. Yes, several drivers have foundations for which, I am sure, many people – and animals – are grateful.
But why a hospital? Gordon’s foundation could have invested in just about anything it deemed worthy.
“We wanted to focus on children and pediatric research and treatment,” Gordon said. “Those are our primary goals as well as caring for children who are battling any type of injury or illness.”
Gordon said the opportunity to lend his name and the foundation’s support to a children’s hospital arose when he was approached by Carolinas Medical Center Northeast in Concord.
“It happened in a roundabout way,” he said. “Basically, Northeast came to us and said, ‘We are building a children’s hospital. We are looking for sponsorship and for people who want to be involved. We know you have a children’s foundation and would you be interested?’
“We told them we would be very interested. It all came together and allowed us to make it the Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital, which is something we are very, very proud of.”
Gordon is involved in several charities as are many other NASCAR competitors. But the hospital bears his name, which certainly can provide it positive attention.
Suffice it to say the public, especially the racing public, is well aware of it.
“Because of its location a lot of our team members as well as members of other teams in our community who have had their children there, come back and say, ‘We had our children treated like gold and thank you so much,’ ” said Gordon, who is in contention for a fifth career title.
“I get letters all the time from people saying thank you for building this hospital. Not that I built it but it’s nice to know that I played a role in it.
“It’s the ones who work there that are doing a terrific job. That’s what it is all about.”
Gordon was not a father when he formed his foundation nor when the children’s hospital was created. But one gets the sense, through what he accomplished, that he always wanted to be.
He is now. He and wife Ingrid have two children, Elia and Leo. Like any other father, he now is more cognizant of what can happen to kids.
“I think to be that way is important,” Gordon said. “I think it is important to know how precious life is and to enjoy every moment of every day with your children.
“You also have to make sure you are doing everything you can to keep them healthy. But looking at the world today you have to know that sometimes you can’t control it. Something can happen to anyone at any time and you don’t have an explanation.”
Gordon lends much more than his name to the facility. As befits all celebrities who deal with foundations and charities, he is personally involved – and then some.
“One of the greatest things the hospital has provided me is that I took Elia over there last Christmas and we handed out bags of goodies, toys, books, markers and things like that to children who were there prior to Christmas,” Gordon said.
“It was an unbelievable experience. Watching her take on that responsibility and recognizing how much it meant to the children, at just three and one-half years old, brought a tear to my eye. I was so proud.
“We plan on doing it again this year.”
It is obvious that as much as sick children and their caring parents can gain, physically and emotionally, from the Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital, others can, too – including the driver himself and his family.
And even a guy who once felt sorry for himself.