Giving and Volunteering, Community Partnership

Former Gopher and five-time cancer survivor Casey O’Brien announces $1 million fundraising drive for children’s hospital

With community support, former Gopher football player Casey O’Brien hopes to raise $1 million to transform the infusion center in Journey Clinic at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.

  • June 07, 2021
  • By Staff Writer

On and off the field, Casey O’Brien has never stopped building his team.

As a former holder for the Gopher football team, O’Brien relied on his University of Minnesota teammates and coaches. Off-field, he leaned on the support of his family and friends – and the skilled care providers at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital – as he defeated cancer five times.

Now, the 22-year-old recent college graduate wants to give back to the hospital and community that gave him so much by raising $1 million to transform the infusion center located in M Health Fairview Pediatric Specialty Clinic – Journey, where many of our cancer patients and others receive treatment.

“The ninth floor is special to me because I’ve done chemo on that floor,” said O’Brien, referencing the clinic’s location on the ninth floor of the hospital. “That’s where I meet with my oncologist. I’ve met with patients on that floor, so it has a lot of significance in my heart.”

Learn more about Casey O’Brien’s “Team One-Four” vision and find out how you can support his campaign.

The infusion center at Journey Clinic is a frequent destination for patients from across the children’s hospital. Children of all ages may spend up to 8 to 12 hours a day at the center receiving infusion therapies like chemotherapy or other therapies for a wide array of conditions. Long days of intensive treatment underscore the importance of having a welcoming, comforting place for the children and families during their stay.

O’Brien’s first-hand experience at Journey Clinic and his appreciation for the staff and patients there sparked a desire to improve the patient and family experience for those visiting the clinic.

O’Brien’s “Team One-Four” infusion center design – a nod to O’Brien’s former football jersey number – focuses on adding patient-friendly services, renovations, and enhancements to the infusion center. The vision includes:

  • Design elements that incorporate more natural light;
  • Making video games, movies, books, and streaming video services available in every room
  • Expanding therapeutic programs offerings in the clinic and hospital

Feedback from patient families at Journey Clinic has so far helped guide design discussions, said Pediatric Oncologist Brenda Weigel, MD, MSC.

“One of our big opportunities is to develop infusion center spaces that are comfortable for people of different ages,” said Weigel. “What may be great for infant, toddler, small child is not going to be a great fit for an adolescent, or young adult.”

Weigel, who also serves as a professor and the director of the division of pediatric hematology/oncology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, has seen how community partners like O’Brien can make a difference for patients at the children’s hospital. Several landmarks in the hospital – including Kyle Rudolph’s End Zone, the Zucker Family Suite and Broadcast Studio, and many others – are healing spaces that were created through philanthropy.

Now, O’Brien’s Team One-Four initiative is looking to carry on this tradition.

“Our kiddos and families spend a lot of time in the infusion center,” said Erin Deo, senior service line director. “We are appreciative of his personal understanding and his vision to make it a more friendly space to be in during that long period of time.”

Deo believes that O’Brien’s vision will expand on the foundation and culture of patient-focused care already practiced by staff in the infusion center. Having the resources, the technology, the right staff, and the space to provide a comfortable atmosphere is pivotal to the healing and treatment process for pediatric patients.

“It will take the whole community. Casey’s spearheading it, but this is really the community giving back to the Masonic Children’s Hospital,” Weigel said.