It was May of 2015. 5 months earlier Parker had been diagnosed with bone cancer. He had gone through several rounds of chemotherapy, and he had just had surgery to remove 5 inches of his Tibia a month prior. This hospital stay was for a skin graft to repair an area of the surgery site that was rotting away.
Parker was bored. The hospital is a boring place. He was playing his PS4, but he put the controller down, looked at me and sighed. Just then I got a text saying they had arrived. Perfect timing. 4 football players were waiting in the hall to see Parker - Brandon Snyder, Parker Hesse, Sam Brincks, and Jake Gervase.
They came in like they had known Parker for years. They talked about their favorite football and basketball teams. Hesse told a story about crying when the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers because he didn’t think he’d be any good. It reminded me of Parker spiking his Greenbay football in anger when he heard Favre was leaving. He was only 6 years old, but he loved football. There was a lot of laughter and a huge smile plastered across Parker’s face.
Not one of them had seen any game time yet, but that didn’t matter to Parker. He was in awe. He could not believe these big, strong football players were cheering him on. What would have been a mundane, incredibly boring afternoon, turned out to be one of Parker’s best days in the hospital.
I remember thinking the visits were probably not all that exciting for the players, but for my 13 year old son, they meant the world.
Then Brandon expressed that he came in to that hospital room thinking about how big of an impact he could make on Parker, but he didn’t realize how big of an impact Parker would make on him. Parker had inspired him.
He began messaging Parker, always sending words of encouragement. Parker would message him back and encourage him to beat whatever opponent they played next. It was a fun football season. They were 12-0. Parker would try to fight through the nausea and fatigue to watch every game. Sometimes he succeeded. When he didn’t, the first thing he’d ask when he woke up was how Brandon played.
Brandon’s last visit to Parker was during Parker’s last chemo treatment. He flew out the next day for a game. We’d run in to him at Dance Marathon, and he kept in touch with Parker.
The following football season, nominations for Kid Captain opened up. I asked Parker if he wanted me to nominate him and he answered with a resounding “Yes!” He talked about how the football players had cheered him on and this was his opportunity to cheer them on. When we found out he was chosen as a Kid Captain, he was ecstatic! Parker was the Kid Captain for the Iowa vs Iowa State game. It was also the same day as his 15th birthday. As they lined up for the National Anthem, Brandon put his arm around Parker. He told Parker to keep fighting. Parker said he would, as long as they won that game. They did. 42-3.
We went to more games. Brandon and Parker Hesse would meet up with us afterwards. After a devastating loss to Wisconsin, Brandon came out of the locker room absolutely crushed. Parker didn’t hesitate and rushed to give him a hug.
Parker then faced a rollercoaster with his leg. He had an infection that required his leg to be amputated. Then the infection went away. Then it came back. Brandon prayed the throughout the entire ordeal. He celebrated with us and grieved with us.
Brandon was a big part in Parker trying out for and making his high school basketball team. The Iowa football players, basketball players and a local Paralympian, all of whom had visited Parker, had encouraged Parker. They convinced him that nothing could stop him, and they showed by example that if he worked hard enough, he could make his dreams come true.
When Brandon tore his ACL, we were heartbroken. By now, we knew Brandon. We knew how much football meant to him and how devastating this injury would be to Brandon. We celebrated his return and cheered louder than anybody else when he had the pick 6 against Illinois on his first game back.
Then it happened. Another torn ACL.
Parker’s temper flared at the cruelness of it all. His amputation being cancelled only to have the infection return and his leg amputated a few months later; Brandon tearing his ACL not once, but twice. If he was this frustrated and angry; he couldn’t imagine how Brandon felt. How demoralized he must be. Parker compared it to how he would feel if he were to relapse with cancer again.
Then we read about Brandon’s OWI. Here was this amazing young man that made a mistake, and the cost was severe. On top of facing a court of law, his family and his coaches, he also had to face public humiliation. I obviously don't condone what he did, but I also couldn’t help but to think of what Brandon had just gone through with his injuries. I understood how it could happen. What I didn’t understand were all of the negative comments on social media. People were name calling and attacking his character. They didn’t even know him. I wanted to yell from the rooftop about how great of a person Brandon is and how much he had helped my son. I wanted to shame people for not being more understanding and sympathetic.
And while the public humiliation was bad enough, I also have no doubt that Brandon was his own biggest critic. He had to face himself, and that was a bigger battle. A battle that Parker and I will proudly stand next to Brandon during while he figures everything out.
When I heard a rumor that Brandon was leaving Iowa, I sent him a message asking if it was true. "Sadly, it is." he replied. He went on to talk about Parker and how much he meant to him. He again offered support and told us he was there for us if we ever needed him.
And look, I don’t know the entire story. But here’s what I do know, I love Brandon for all he did for my son. I know he will overcome this. I know he will do great at South Dakota State University. And I know that beyond college, the future is bright and he can do anything he puts his mind to.
Brandon - You’re stronger than you know. And just like Parker, you got this. We’re here for you 100%.