COUNCIL BLUFFS — When the Iowa Hawkeyes take the field Saturday to face off against Rutgers, Jackson Tijerina of Council Bluffs will be there.
Not just in the stands — he will run onto the field with them.
Jackson, 8, receives medical treatment for his brain cancer at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital and was named the Kid Captain for the game, according to his parents, James and Amy Tijerina. To qualify, children must be current or former patients of the hospital.
“That’s where his main doctors are that treat him, so we go there about every three months,” Amy Tijerina said.
Besides running on with the team, Jackson will get to meet Herkey and all of the coaches and players — and he’ll get to join Hawkeye players, staff and fans in waving at the children who are currently staying at the hospital , as is now customary during the Hawkeyes’ home football games.
Jackson has run onto the field five times with high school football teams, his mother said. He’s done it twice with the Tri-Center Trojans and once each with football teams from Abraham Lincoln, Underwood and West Harrison High Schools.
“The Hawkeyes were always on his bucket list — that was the big one,” she said.
Jackson got to go to Kid Day on Aug. 10, his mother said.
“We got to meet all the other Kid Captains,” she said.
He got to go out onto the field and take a tour of the stadium, his mom said. His favorite part was the pink locker room visiting teams have to use.
“He thought that was pretty funny,” she said.
Jackson was given a box full of Hawkeye memorabilia, including a ball signed by the players, a poster with his picture on it saying “Kid Captain Jackson, Council Bluffs, IA” and a set of player cards bearing his name and some basic information on him.
“We thought it was really fitting that he got the first game in September, because September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month,” Amy Tijerina said. “I’m a passionate advocate for funding for children’s cancer research.”
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Jackson was “pretty sick” during summer 2018, and his parents were told he had about a year to live, Amy Tijerina said. But he started a new medication in September 2018 that targets his cancer cells, and it has been shrinking his tumor, his periodic MRI scans have shown. He was fortunate to be able to get it, since it isn’t yet available to the general public, she said.
“It ended up saving his life,” she said.
Traditional chemotherapy drugs kill healthy cells, as well as cancer cells, which is why they tend to cause illness, Tijerina said. Side effects from this medication are mild.
“Its main side effect is stuff like skin rashes,” she said.
His doctors plan to stick with this medicine until it stops working or a better one becomes available, Tijerina said. University of Iowa is one of the top schools for pediatric brain tumor research, she said.
“The office we go to overlooks the football field,” she said. “We always take a trip up to the 12th floor where everybody stands when they do the wave.”
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz, who has donated more than $1 million to the hospital, has sent Jackson autographed letters and autographed posters, Tijerina said.
Now, the family’s loyalty to the university is stronger than ever.
“That school saved our son’s life,” Tijerina said.