In his latest visit to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital on Tuesday, before he cut the ribbon on the new space he and his wife Jordan spearheaded for the building, Kyle Rudolph met a girl from North Dakota named Emma.

She’d come to the hospital after being diagnosed with cancer last Wednesday. In talking with her father, Rudolph learned Emma had the same cancer — neuroblastoma — that his younger brother Casey battled from birth.

“My mom [Jamie] is actually here, so she was able to visit with the parents, tell them our story and kind of give them a little bit of encouragement,” Rudolph said. “My brother’s 27 years old now, and he’s been cancer-free since he was 14 months old. I know it’s been a hard week for them, but to get that news and to be able to spend a little time with them, you could definitely tell it gave them hope for what’s ahead.”

It was his brother’s successful battle with cancer that’s drawn Rudolph — the Vikings’ 2017 Community Man of the Year — to focus his service on the children’s hospital. And his family’s own experiences in Cincinnati Children’s Hospital — spending long days in hospital rooms with Casey while trying to keep toddler Kyle entertained and out of trouble — were what drove the tight end to make Kyle Rudolph’s End Zone a reality.

The 2,500 square-foot space at the Masonic Children’s Hospital — based on a similar space at Children’s Minnesota’s St. Paul hospital — gives patients a place to relax, spend time with friends, engage in healing therapies. It’s outfitted with a basketball hoop, a football and soccer simulator, video game consoles, a cooking station and a sensory/walk area for patients with autism spectrum disorder or other behavioral health issues. Rudolph unveiled plans for the space in February; when he saw it during his Halloween party at the hospital, it was still “dust and drywall.

“I was very adamant that I wanted it done by today, the day we had our Christmas huddle,” he said. “[The contractors] weren’t too thrilled about that, but if I could have had it done at Halloween, I would have had it done at Halloween. The more opportunities we have to get kids in here, the better.”

The space will be staffed round the clock by a child life specialist, and will be available whenever patients want to use it, whether that’s for a cooking class, physical rehabilitation or simply a chance to be a kid. Rudolph envisions programs during Super Bowl week in Minneapolis, and hopes kids will be able to gather in front of the space’s TV to watch the game on Feb. 4. Rudolph’s future events at the hospital will move from the lobby to the new space next to the Wilf Family Auditorium.

“I don’t think we realized the amount of uses that this place actually had until we dove into it with the doctors and all the specialists,” Rudolph said on Tuesday, at an event also attended by Vikings owner Mark Wilf. “It’s about the kids. When I start seeing kids down here with smiles on their faces, having a good time, I think I’ll truly realize how special this space is.”

Rudolph’s one-year-old twin girls, Andersyn and Finley, have been at the hospital for events over the past two days, and spent time shooting baskets kicking balls into the sports simulator. “It’s definitely kid-tested and kid-approved,” he said.

“It’s awesome to see them in here. It makes me excited for, as they get older, bringing them back here, showing them why this space is here and showing them how to give back to the community, as well.”

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