Nationwide celebration tour provides chance to raise awareness for worthy cause
COLUMBUS, Ohio – It’s getting easier for Jeff and Shannon Rockwell to smile at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
For years they’ve watched their 4-year-old daughter, Taylor, receive treatments for a life-threatening liver disease.
But on a December morning, they watched her get a playful lesson in putting from Nationwide Series driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
“It’s good to get her to see these things,” Jeff Rockwell said about his daughter, “and not just come to the hospital for ‘bad’ things, or things you don’t want to come for.”
Stenhouse Jr. came to the hospital with his entire team, part of a celebration tour put on by Nationwide for winning their second consecutive championship.
Rockwell said he became a NASCAR fan in the 1990s by following driver Ken Schrader and attending races in Michigan.
But interest in NASCAR waned when Taylor was born. His family had new priorities.
From birth, Taylor suffered from severe jaundice and she was diagnosed with a form of liver failure called biliary atresia.
"Without this hospital we’d be one child short. I honestly feel that."
-- Shannon Rockwell, mother of three
At just three months old, Taylor had life-saving surgery.
“Without this hospital we’d be one child short,” said Shannon Rockwell, a mother of three. “I honestly feel that. Normally, if they’re not diagnosed in time, they’ll die by the age of 2. They caught it and ran tests here very quickly. And thankfully for that they were able to do the surgery.”
The Nationwide Children’s Hospital provides care to patients from all over the country regardless of a family’s income.
Last year, officials said they treated more than one million children.
Stenhouse Jr. and his crew spent time during the visit signing autographs, taking pictures and even challenging some of the kids to games of Mario Kart on Nintendo Wii.
Stenhouse Jr. said the visit provides perspective.
“We fight all day to be race car drivers and to win races,” he said. “But nothing compares to what they’re having to go through.
“It’s cool that we can provide some entertainment for their families, as obviously they’re spending a lot of time in the hospitals and a lot of time caring for their kids."
Taylor Rockwell still comes to the hospital at least three times a year for follow-up treatments.
Her parents said watching racing has served as healthy distraction as Taylor’s health has improved.
Next August will mark the first time the Nationwide Series will race on the road course at Mid-Ohio, not far from the Rockwell’s home.
Jeff Rockwell said the family would likely make the trip.
The race is sponsored by the hospital that helped care for Taylor.
“The Mid-Ohio race is going to be neat,” Stenhouse Jr. said. “It will obviously bring a lot of awareness to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, which I think is huge.”