There is a new, heartwarming version of "the wave" sweeping the University of Iowa football stadium.
At the end of the first quarter, at every home game, the 70,000-seat outdoor arena crowd stands en masse to wave and shout at the small, sick patients in the newly opened children’s hospital across the street.
For little Wyatt Hemphill, who was so sick he could barely hold up his head, the rousing recognition Sunday gave him the strength to hold up his arm and wave back.
“First time he actually smiled and giggled since [we've] been here,” his mother, Hillary, wrote on Facebook. “This is such an amazing thing. He felt so special! Thank you to everyone that waved! I had tears in my eyes. Even through everything he smiled.”
Wyatt has a rare immunodeficiency disorder, and had been admitted on Friday to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, where its top floors soar directly over the home of the Hawkeyes.
The boy didn’t have the strength to walk to the windows, where other patients and their parents stood waving to the stadium crowd.
“We wheeled his bed over,” his dad, Brandon, told InsideEdition.com Tuesday. “As soon as he saw the football players walking out, he smiled.
“We told him, ‘They’re going to wave to you! They’re going to wave to you! You gotta watch!’ People started turning around and waving and cheering for 10 or 15 minutes,” he said.
“It’s phenomenal. To be standing on the floor with the kids, it’s just awesome,” the father said.
The Hawkeye Wave started earlier this month, when football season began. The children’s hospital had only recently opened, and someone had the empathetic notion to pay tribute to the little ones in the new medical center.
“There are people in the stands who must have relatives in the hospital,” Wyatt’s dad said. “Because they’re holding up signs with people’s names on them.”
His son has been sick since the day he was born, Brandon Hemphill said. It took doctors two years, and several hospitalizations, to pinpoint the source of Wyatt’s misery.
His immune system is so badly compromised that it might as well be non-existent.
Doctors hoped a recent bone marrow transplant would bolster the boy’s resistance, but his system is doing battle with the donor marrow, Brandon said.
“If the transplant doesn’t take, they have to do the whole process over again... It’s just kind of wait and see,” the father said. “The only cure is another bone marrow transplant.”
The boy has a 7-year-old brother who’s completely healthy, their dad said.
The past four years have been a nightmare, Brandon says. But Wyatt lightens his parents’ pain.
“He makes it easier,” his father said. “He’s constantly happy. He’s always trying to play with someone. He’s just so outgoing.”