Bears President & CEO Kevin Warren reads a letter he penned to his sister Carolyn Warren-Knox, who passed away from brain cancer Oct. 2, 2014. Click here to read the full letter.
MINNEAPOLIS – "Do what you can to make their lives easier."
Nearly a decade after Kevin Warren heard those words from his late sister Carolyn in her final moments, the Bears' President & CEO was reminded of that message Monday morning in Minneapolis.
While the Bears were gearing up for their matchup against the Vikings, Warren — in his return to a place he once called home — first wanted to pay a special visit to M Health Fairview Masonic Children's Hospital, the place he and his wife, Greta, established Carolyn's Comforts Fund, a children's cancer emergency assistance program that helps families manage the difficulties that a cancer diagnosis brings.
Before Warren's visit, he received a sign from Carolyn.
"It was almost like Carolyn's voice to me saying ‘Do not forget. Just do not forget.'" Bears President & CEO Kevin Warren
As Warren arrived at the hospital, his Uber driver pulled up near the emergency entrance, an unfamiliar location despite his hundreds of visits to Masonic Children's Hospital. While Warren knew he needed to find the main entrance for his visit, he decided to enter and see if there was a different way through.
Upon stepping into the emergency area, Warren saw several sick kids waiting. He witnessed a mom pushing her child in a stroller through the hospital. That coincidental, yet emotional, moment brought tears to Warren's eyes as he recalled it nearly an hour later.
"It was such an unbelievable reminder of just the impact that we are having," Warren said. "It was almost like Carolyn's voice to me saying 'Do not forget. Just do not forget.'
"It was powerful to be able to go into an emergency room and really see that this is not a corporate project that will look good on paper — it really is changing lives."
Warren's return to the Twin Cities coincided with Carolyn's Comforts nearing its 1,000th grant. As of last week, the fund had supported 989 children and their families and disbursed almost $250,000.
In December 2014, when Warren originally announced the creation of Carolyn's Comforts, he and his family donated $1 million in hopes that the fund "lasts for eternity" in order to change as many lives as possible.
"I think Carolyn would be really pleased," Warren said. "Her voice spoke to me today."
During his visit, Warren also reunited with several of the staff at Masonic Children's Hospital who work with the pediatric cancer patients that the fund impacts on a daily basis.
Physician-in-Chief Dr. Joseph P. Neglia M.D., M.P.H expressed his gratitude for Warren's support, which began during his 15 years with the Vikings and has continued on during his time as both Big Ten Commissioner and Bears President & CEO. As someone who experiences firsthand how Carolyn's Comforts impacts children and their families at the hospital, Dr. Neglia calls the fund "a big deal."
"What Carolyn's Comforts has done is it lets us give funds to those families for simple things — getting here for chemotherapy from South Dakota, parking, helping pay the mortgage that month," Dr. Neglia said. "That's what you see it as. You see it take a little bit of stress off the families. They still have a lot to cope with, but it takes a little bit off and we couldn't be more thankful for Kevin for doing this in honor of his sister. He's made a big difference for a lot of kids and their families here."
Pediatric Oncology Clinical Social Worker Emily Landsverk, who helps disburse the funds from Carolyn's Comforts, also spent time with Warren Monday. Landsverk often sees the families experience pure joy or sighs of relief when they receive the grants from Carolyn's Comforts, adding that the fund's impact is "felt so deeply here."
What Landsverk appreciates the most is how Warren, his family and Carolyn's Comforts have been "a constant in a day and age where nothing is constant."
"I have listened to Kevin talk about his sister and the impact that her cancer had on their entire family and her journey," Landsverk said. "To see that he still carries that passion, even to this day, it's really moving. It gives me hope in a time when things financially for so many organizations are tight.
"We appreciate Mr. Warren and his dedication and commitment to our pediatric cancer patients and families. It truly makes a profound difference."