Caden Bowles loved cars.

Bowles passed away in 2013 while waiting for a heart transplant. He was 11 years old. To raise awareness about organ and blood donation, the University’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital held the second annual Caden’s Car Show on Sunday. Pediatric patients were invited to come see the many cars, old and new, on the rooftop of the University of Michigan Health System parking garage.  

The event accompanied a fundraiser, Caden’s Full Throttle, which was held Friday and raised money for congenital heart research and pediatric heart transplants at Mott.

John Charpie, professor of pediatrics and director of pediatric cardiology at Mott, took care of Caden from the time he was born. According to Charpie, Caden knew everything about cars.

“It was really impressive,” Charpie said. “He knew all of the different styles and the engine sizes.”

The show featured more than 60 cars. The oldest car present was a Ford Model T from 1915. Other cars included a Ford Anglia that matched the flying car from the film Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; a replica of Tow Mater, the vehicle from Disney’s Cars; and an enormous Tonka truck. There were also modern sports car brands, including Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren.

“I really try to keep a good variety of cars,” said Rusty Blackwell, car coordinator for the event.

Caden’s Car Show is the brainchild of automotive journalist Jean Jennings, who is currently president and editor-in-chief of Jean Knows Cars, Inc. When Caden was eight years old, Jennings received a phone call from a Mott employee, who told her about Caden’s passion for cars, and said she should come in and meet him.

“He was eight years old, and he knew more arcane details about any car you could say to him than any journalist I know,” Jennings said. “He was this little peanut, and he was an absolute ball of light.”

Caden was born with a rare form of heart disease called hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Charpie said children with this defect typically undergo three heart surgeries. After the first of these, Caden had complications that caused him to require a new heart instead of continuing with the next two surgeries. He had his first heart transplant when he was six weeks old. Transplanted hearts generally last about a decade, and by the time Caden was 10, he was in need of another heart.

“It was just about that time and his transplanted heart started to give out,” Charpie said. “We enlisted him for a new heart.”

While he was waiting for a heart, Jennings, inspired by Caden’s passion for cars, started planning a car show for him.

“As an automotive journalist, I have access to a lot of cool cars,” Jennings said. “So I decided to give him his own car show.”

In the interim, Caden’s condition deteriorated. To buy Caden more time, Charpie said, Caden’s physicians decided to give him an artificial heart. Caden was one of the first children in Michigan to receive such a heart, and Charpie said UMHS has been at the forefront of artificial heart research.

Caden survived this operation, but he had a complication from the artificial heart, and passed away before he could get a transplant. Though Caden was gone, Jennings continued planning the show, which she wanted to hold in his honor.  

“He died before his heart came,” Jennings said. “So I just kept working on it.”

The event was held not only to raise awareness about the importance of donating organs, but also to support researching alternative methods of organ replacement besides human donation, such as the artificial heart.

“I think that is the next step we need to take,” Charpie said. “We’re always going to be limited by how many people can donate.”

The show also gave pediatric patients an opportunity to leave their rooms. Nancy Langley, mother of a Mott patient, said her son was excited to see all of the different cars.

“He likes the monster trucks,” she said. “He’s kind of liking the little cars today, too.”

Some patients, however, were too sick to leave their rooms and attend the rooftop show. For these kids, there were activities within the hospital, including a miniature racing track, Xbox side-by-side racing, ice cream and a binocular viewing area to watch the show.

Jack Bowles, Caden’s grandfather, is on the planning committee for Caden’s Car Show. He said Caden would have loved the event.

“He would be chatterbox nonstop,” Bowles said. “He could tell you about any car in this lot.”

Jennings said, in part due to the incredible participation of UMHS staff, she thinks Caden’s Car Show will continue to be held in the future.

“This is our second year, and more and more and more people are getting involved,” she said. “I think it’s going to last a while.”

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