Kelsie Blackwell, 29, still cherishes the memories of meeting Peyton Manning in 2002 at what is now Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital.
INDIANAPOLIS — Peyton Manning’s NFL legacy was enshrined on Sunday at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. But Peyton created a legacy in Indianapolis that goes far beyond football and lives on in the children’s hospital that bears his name.
Even before Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital | St. Vincent Indianapolis opened in 2003, Peyton visited pediatric patients at Ascension St. Vincent Hospital.
Kelsie Blackwell was 10 years old in the fall of 2002 when Peyton, 26, and in his fifth season with the Colts, came to her room for a visit. Kelsie was a patient at what would soon become Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital. She had brain cancer and her whole body was swollen from a reaction to chemotherapy.
“She looked like Violet, the little girl on ‘Willy Wonka’ who exploded, turned purple and looked like she was going to explode,” said Tawana Blackwell, Kelsie’s mother and also a registered nurse and manager of the NICU at Ascension St. Vincent Women’s Hospital. . “That was Kelsie the day Peyton Manning came to visit. She had lost all her hair. She was all swollen.”
“To see him come in and really sit down and talk to me and spend time… I actually didn’t even mind the way I looked,” Kelsie said. “He just made me feel like I was a normal kid, if nothing else or something, that nothing was wrong.”
Peyton made hospital visits with a few high school soccer players. Tawana said the boys were understandably surprised and uncomfortable to see Kelsie in her swollen state — but not Peyton.
“He never hesitated,” Tawana said. “He walked in. He introduced himself to Kelsie. He shook her hand. He sat down next to her. He started hanging out and talking to her and just made the visit very special.”
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That caring visit from the Colts quarterback, when Kelsie looked physically at her worst, left a lasting impression on her entire family. Kelsie is now 29 years old and cancer free. She still cherishes the picture and hat Peyton drew for her that day.
“I was always a Colts fan, but definitely became an even bigger one after that,” said Kelsie. “Even when he switched teams, I still followed him and was happy to be a fan of his.”
Kelsie and Tawana both work at Ascension St. Vincent Women’s Hospital, just around the corner from Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital. Kelsie has worked in the materials and supply department for nine years.
The Blackwell family admire Peyton’s continued commitment to the hospital.
“He’s not just someone who has his name on a building and never shows up,” Kelsie said. “He still makes sure he stays connected to this aspect of his life, to what we do here. To me and my family, that’s why he will always be special.”
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Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital is celebrating 18 years of special relationship with the Colts now-hall-of-fame number 18 quarterback. The hospital has expanded to 46 private admission rooms, 23 beds for pediatric intensive care units and a special pediatric ward with 17 beds. The 97-bed neonatal intensive care unit is the largest in the state of Indiana.
Since 2008, Peyton and his wife Ashley have been the honorary presidents of the annual Celebration for Caring Gala, which has raised more than $14 million to support patients and programs at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital. Peyton brings a top country artist to the event each year, donating items and experiences to auction, and is hands-on with the planning.
Peyton continues to visit the hospital and talk to patients and their families without seeking attention or recognition. He also makes countless phone calls and videos from patients. Peyton hosts a holiday party every year for patients, families and hospital staff.