Patient’s Legacy Lives on in a Special Car Show at Mott

September 13, 2016 7:00 AM

A little boy’s extraordinary love for cars inspired an annual car show, which raises awareness for organ donation and the need for pediatric heart research.

A red carpet, a Tow Mater look-alike and a Wienermobile aren’t a typical part of hospital life. 

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But Sunday wasn’t a typical day at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital as children and their families took a break from their rooms to visit the rooftop of a nearby parking structure for Caden’s Car Show.

Young patients were seen climbing into such flashy vehicles as a Rolls-Royce Dawn, a Shrek-themed 1947 Pontiac Torpedo and the new Bentley Bentayga. They got to beep the horn of a Camaro road racer and McLaren 570S, ride in a classic mini Volkswagen Thing and take pictures with a monster truck.

The annual car show drew nearly 70 cars this year, transforming the top of the hospital parking deck into an auto dream world.

The colorful sea of vintage, exotic and state-of-the-art luxury cars included recognizable models from Ferrari, McLaren, Porsche, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Shelby and other manufacturers while the Wienermobile, monster truck, Tonka truck and Rolls-Royce Moxie car lined the valet circle.

The event, which is in its third year, was inspired by 11-year-old heart patient Caden Bowles, who died exactly three years ago on Sept. 11, 2013, while waiting for a second heart transplant. Caden was known for his contagious smile, keen curiosity and extraordinary love for cars.

“What started as one little boy’s dream has turned into a magical day for our patients. There’s nothing like it,” says Paul King, executive director of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital.

“We are thankful for the time and generosity of so many car owners, sponsors and devoted volunteers who come together to celebrate Caden’s life and legacy through this car show.”

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The show grew from the idea of one of Caden’s friends, automotive journalist Jean Jennings. Jennings met Caden at Mott when he was 7 years old and recovering from cancer that developed after his first heart transplant.

Jennings was amazed by Caden’s sophisticated car chatter, knowledge and passion for details such as car specs, horsepower and even the most obscure car models. The young patient was also known for his pencil sketches of imaginary cars he designed himself. Jennings dreamed of a car show for Caden that would bring joy to other children in the hospital, and she worked with members of the auto community and hospital leaders and staff to plan the event.

The show serves as a tribute to Caden while raising awareness for the need for pediatric heart research and organ donation. More than 3,000 people in Michigan are waiting for an organ, with a national waiting list of nearly 125,000 people, according to Gift of Life Michigan.

Caden’s family members say they share their story in hopes that it will encourage people to consider becoming organ, bone marrow and blood donors.

“We’re here today to honor Caden and remember the influence and impact he had on so many people’s lives,” Caden’s grandpa Jack Bowles says. “But this car show entails more than that. The car show is for the kids in the hospital, a day of diversion. To see those kids smile, even for just a few hours, and to be able to take their minds off of their sickness ... That’s what this day is about. 

“If Caden were here today, he would have absolutely loved it.”

Learn more about organ donation and supporting pediatric heart research at