On June 23, adrenaline junkies can turn their endorphin rush into building blocks of the new Children’s Hospital Colorado, Colorado Springs by racing up and down the 2,700 stairs of the Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium. But for 12-year-old Lauren Schawmb and her family, the fourth annual Climb for Courage is highly personal: It’s a race to build Lauren’s own hospital.
Lauren is a normal kid who loves knitting and crocheting, bacon and going to summer camp. Her medical conditions, however, are far from normal. She was born two months prematurely with a congenital heart defect and underwent a heart transplant when she was 3. She has had two transplant rejection scares along with a few other serious conditions, including eosinophilic esophagitis, a chronic immune condition that affects the esophagus. The military transferred the Schwambs to Colorado three years ago, and the excellent medical care that they receive at Children’s Colorado in Aurora convinced them to settle down here. “She has such a great team in Colorado Springs and in Aurora,” Lauren’s mother, Cristi, says.
Slated to open in the spring of 2019, the new hospital will be the second-largest facility in the Aurora-based Children’s Hospital of Colorado. Located near Briargate and Union, the 300,000 square-foot hospital will have 110 beds and feature an emergency room and neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). “It will be the most robust children’s hospital from Denver to the north, Dallas to the south and Phoenix to the west,” says Jenny Stafford, philanthropy director of the Children’s Colorado Foundation. “It’s a first for this community, and we’ll be able to care for our community’s kids right here in Colorado Springs.” The hospital will also draw patients from neighboring states.
For the Schwamb family, having specialized care closer to home will transform their lives. Currently they have a well-worn path from their house in Colorado Springs to the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora because most of Lauren’s medical team is housed there. Lauren recounts a time when she and her mom were alone in the car on an emergency trip to Anschutz when Cristi had to pull over into a “sketchy gas station” in Monument to administer a shot of steroids that saved her life. One heart transplant rejection episode required Lauren to be airlifted to Aurora. Even in a typical month, the family makes the drive up I-25 several times for regular appointments — it’s a 3-hour round trip, not including any time spent in treatment. Lauren is homeschooled and can do her homework in the car, but the travel is hard on the whole family. Cristi often misses her older children’s activities.
Children’s Hospital Colorado Springs is a big deal for the Schwambs — it will be only 10 minutes from home. The family likes to refer to it as Lauren’s hospital. “Lauren was adopted by GE Johnson as their kid of the quarter, and she was at the construction site when they were first digging the foundation,” Cristi says. One day some of the construction workers built a ramp of earth so she could climb into their heavy-lifting equipment and check things out. Lauren even got to write her name in the foundation concrete — certainly a sign that it truly is her building.
This will be the second year the Schwambs will participate in the Climb for Courage. Last year Cristi and her husband did the full stair climb. The full race is a heart-pounding climb zig-zagging up 2,700 stairs, and the subsequent fun run is untimed around the lower levels of the stadium. Lauren was in charge of giving each of the participants a high-five as they entered the race, but when given the option to do the fun wave herself she initially refused. The excitement of the day in 2017 changed her mind, to her parent’s astonishment “We looked down and Lauren was starting the steps — she just kept going,” Cristi says. “We kept watching, and she kept walking, and before we knew it she was coming out of the entry onto the grass. She was our last-minute entry,” Cristi says. The Saturday morning Climb for Courage event includes a family festival with vendors, including Cool Science, Colorado College and Air Force Academy Athletics.
The Climb for Courage is the flagship fundraising event for the hospital. This time, there’s only one for year left to raise the necessary funds to complete the new hospital before its scheduled opening in Spring 2019. “All of the money raised goes to build the new Children’s Hospital right here in Colorado Springs,” Stafford says. “[The money raised so far] has come from over 10,000 donors, which we are so proud of. Our goal is $15 million from 15,000 donors.”
So get out your running shoes, and let’s build Lauren’s hospital.
Time to Climb
Climb for Courage
June 23, 2018
U.S. Air Force Academy, Falcon Stadium
Details and registration: childrenscoloradofoundation.org
8:30 a.m. race
$35 registration for adults; $20 for 18 and under
$50 fundraising minimum per adult
10 a.m. fun wave
$35 adults, $20 ages 13-18, free under 13 with participating grown-up
$50 fundraising minimum per adult