UI Children’s Hospital room named in memory of Austin Smith
by Kim Brooks
Wednesday, March 28th 2018
MONTICELLO, Iowa (Monticello Express) —
“Children are more precious than gold.”
That quote is attributed to children with cancer, and the color gold is the official color for childhood cancer awareness.
Saturday, April 7 is the third annual Austin Smith Gala, and this year the Austin Strong Foundation is not only remembering little Austin Smith but also all childhood cancer warriors.
Austin passed away on May 20, 2016 at the age of 6, after a 16-month battle with DIPG (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma), a form of childhood cancer.
“We will be highlighting current children fighting (cancer) as well as angels like Austin throughout the night,” said Austin’s mom Mikinzie Smith.
The Gala will be held at The Jitney in downtown Monticello from 7-11 p.m. Tickets for the event are still available for $75, and can be purchased by any Foundation member or online at https://austinstrong.eventbrite.com. Checks can also be mailed to Austin Strong Foundation, P.O. Box 727, Monticello, IA 52310. If tickets are still available the day of the Gala, you can also pay at the door.
New this year is a keynote speaker, KCRG-TV9 News Anchor Chris Earl.
“When he first reported on Austin’s journey with DIPG, he took an immediate interest in him and checked in with us regularly,” shared Mikinzie. “He has always been an advocate since for getting his (Austin’s) story out there. Being a father himself, he sees how important the cause really is.”
There will also be a live band from Iowa City, the “Tornadoes.” The significance of the band is the fact that its members perform at night, but by day they are all doctors at the University of Iowa Hospital. Mikinzie said that was a plus.
At the Gala there will also be games, raffles, and a silent auction with many great items such as a hot tub.
All proceeds from the Gala benefit the Austin Strong Foundation, which is made up of a group of friends and family of the Smiths. The Foundation has teamed up with 20-plus other family foundation that pooled their resources together and have been able to grant out more than $1.6 million for pediatric brain cancer research.
“We are much more effective working together,” said Mikinzie. “Collaboration among foundations and researchers is so important to prevent duplication of research, effectiveness and treatments, and ultimately finding a cure.”
The Austin Strong Foundation raises money locally through a variety of events from the annual Gala to Austin’s Halloween Fun Day, Ride Like a Superhero and apparel sales. A new fundraiser that just started this year was an ice-fishing tournament launched by the Foundation’s Minnesota chapter. “Freeze Out Childhood Cancer” was held in late January, hosted by Austin’s godmother and Mikinzie’s aunt. The event raised over $7,000 for the Foundation.
In early March, through the Foundation and a personal contribution from Austin’s parents, Britt and Mikinzie Smith, a room at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital was named and dedicated in memory of Austin.
“We directed the money to the Foundation that was left from Austin’s benefit fund from all of the generous donations given during this fight and earmarked for this project,” explained Mikinzie.
Austin’s room was chosen by random, but lucky enough to be given room number 1111.
While Austin was never treated within the new children’s hospital, Mikinzie said they would walk the halls and check on the construction progress, how much things had changed from his last visit to the next.
“After his passing, we wanted to do something special to make him a part of that hospital,” she said. She said it was important that their donation benefit the pediatric oncology department specifically. That’s when the hospital’s director of development suggested a patient room on the oncology floor, the 11th floor.
Mikinzie said while it’s hard to describe what an honor like this means to their family, there “is something very healing about giving back to the hospital that held you up during your darkest days.
“The new children’s hospital is nothing short of amazing and just what families going through this type of tragedy need,” praised Mikinzie. To add to the special facility, she said the view of Kinnick Stadium as Hawkeye fans perform the now-famous “wave” takes your breath away.
“We are incredibly honored to be a part of that, see Austin’s memory live forever on the 11th floor,” Mikinzie added.
Above all, the Foundation’s goal is to help fund childhood cancer research “because without it, we will never make progress for these kids.”
Mikinzie teased a new project in the works in partnership with the UI Children’s Hospital.
“Stay tuned…,” she said.
In just a year’s time, the Foundation has been able to donate over $100,000 to benefit pediatric cancer. Mikinzie said it’s a milestone they are quite proud of with the second anniversary of Austin’s passing this May.
“Our community is nothing short of amazing,” she boasted. “Your biggest fear as a parent who has lost their child is that eventually people will forget, and our community has shown us that they will not.
“Austin’s fight was not in vain and we will continue to battle together. Austin was always very proud to be from Monticello. After this past year and seeing what this community has helped us do in his honor, I know he is just beaming with pride.”