Third annual Caden's Car Show

Sunday, September 11, 2016 - 7:24pm

Exotic sports cars and American Muscle covered the top floor of the parking structure adjacent to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital on Sept. 11. Parked in front of the lobby were several more cars on display, including a full-size monster truck and the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, for the annual Caden’s Car Show.

This is the third year Caden’s Car Show has taken place at Mott, the University of Michigan’s pediatric medical facility. The event is named after Caden Bowles, a young boy born with a congenital heart condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Bowles had a remarkable love for all things cars, and came to be well known by doctors and staff at Mott who worked with him over the years. On Sept. 11, 2013, Bowles passed away while waiting for a heart transplant.

After his death, Caden’s Car Show was instituted to both raise awareness for the importance of organ donation, as well as to provide a fun relief and distraction for children in the hospital.

On Sunday, there were a wide variety of cars and activities for kids to enjoy while they took a break from their regular hospital activities. Cars at the show included a Ford GT, a Dodge Viper ACR, a hand-built “midget” race car and a Volkswagen Westfalia van, which is known by many as a hippie mobile. Other activities included hand painting and sculpting activities.

In addition to those attractions, there was a station set up where attendees of the private event could sign up to be organ donors.

The idea for the car show was conceived by Jean Jennings, who met Bowles after hearing about his extraordinary love for cars. Jennings, the former president and editor-in-chief of Automobile Magazine, is now the co-chair of the event.

“I wrote a column about him while he was waiting for a transplant and it was in the automobile fantasy issue. My fantasy was that people would sign up to donate their organs, and that Caden would get a heart,” she said.

Jennings originally heard about Bowles through connections with people who worked at the hospital. She used connections of her own, with people such as Rusty Blackwell, who is the copy chief of Car and Driver Magazine, to source owners of cars who were interested in participating in the car show. Jennings met and connected with Bowles before he passed away in 2013, and brought her idea to fruition one year later on Sept. 11, 2014.

“The point of the show is for the kids, and there is only a very limited section open to the public” she said, noting that a central aspect of the car show is to give the kids an opportunity to have some fun. “It gives the kids and their parents a few hours to get out of that hospital room.”

Meg Zamberlan, a nurse practitioner who volunteers to help coordinate the event, told the Daily about 50 children were able to attend the event. She said about 155 children were screened by doctors who determined whether or not they were physically fit enough to attend. Small numbers of kids were brought up to see the cars to maintain a comfortable atmosphere.

According to Jennings, sponsors of the event, including companies such as Chevrolet and Land Rover, also donate toys and other gifts to children who are not able to leave the hospital room due to necessary precautions that are identified during the screening process.

Several doctors who cared for Bowles while he was a patient at Mott were present at the car show, and were also involved in the coordination and planning of the event. Dr. Richard Ohye was the surgeon who gave Bowles his first transplant at the age of 6, and would have been the surgeon responsible for his second. He volunteers in the planning of the car show as well as a separate fundraising event that took place last Friday.

“The car show is in honor of Caden, but it is really for all of the kids at the hospital,” he said. “We can get the kids out here to enjoy being outside, and sometimes kids have been here for months.”

The fundraiser, called Caden’s Full Throttle Event, takes place in tandem with the car show. The car show itself is geared toward relief for hospital patients and raising awareness of need for organ donation relief, rather than fundraising.

“I would say this year the fundraising event took off because of the buzz, as well as in terms of the funds we raised” he said. “This year we actually oversold the tickets.”

Ohye said a final count of funds raised has not yet been determined because the event happened on Friday night, but he said it is estimated the event raised about $75,000.

Jack Bowles, Caden’s grandfather, who acted as a Bowles family representative at the event, also said it continues to take place for the sake of the children who are currently in the hospital.

“The event today is not about Caden, it’s in memory of him,” he said. “The event today is about these sick kids that you see coming out here in wheelchairs and pulling IVs with them. It’s a day of diversion.”

The Bowles family, including Caden’s parents and siblings, were in attendance at the event. Caden’s father, Lance Bowles, said the event has been a success over the last three years and that it has been good for the hospital and organ donation awareness. He added that he’s been impressed by the level of interest in volunteering from the hospital community

“The staff here that already have full-time jobs dedicate a lot of their time to coordinate this event” he said.

John Charpie, director of pediatric cardiology at Mott, was another specialist who worked with Bowles during his care at Mott. He told the Daily he has seen the event grow in both exposure and interest by members of the car community, saying the car show is a rare opportunity for car owners and enthusiasts to become involved with the hospital.

“It’s just grown and grown; the word is getting out now. We have more community coming and it just raises more awareness about the importance of heart transplants and the importance of (cardiovascular) research” he said. “The drivers embrace this and they look at this like their charity.”

Car owners at the event were approached through their own personal circles. Barb Weiderman, owner of a VW Westfalia van, has come to the car show for the last three years.

“They had contacted our Vintage Volkswagen club in Detroit, and said that they were looking for some unique vehicles,” she said. “It’s a very worthwhile cause. It’s very humbling to come here and see all of these children with issues, and it’s very gratifying to me to be able to make them smile.”

Weiderman plans to continue bringing her VW van to the event as long as the event continues in future summers.

Despite being held under the constraints of available parking garage roof space, Jennings foresees the car show expanding in terms of its intended outcomes of donation and research awareness.

“What I see happening is our fundraiser growing, and rates of organ donation growing,” he said. “And what I see is fewer kids on the roof because more of them will be better and reach a place where there will be more people donating organs versus people who need them.”