Madison Morris left her room inside the Ronald McDonald House of Kansas City, and she walked down the hallway to ensure she could reserve a spot. It was 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, still two hours before a mystery guest was scheduled to arrive. Well, the guest was mostly a mystery. A morning email had provided some clues. “I called my Grandma and was like, ‘I’m about to meet a Chiefs player,’” Morris said.
Sure enough, just after 11:30, Chris Jones strolled into the building, taking a tour that included autographs, selfies, Big Macs and a happy birthday jingle. After his last-minute Kansas City appearance, we’ve talked mostly about Jones’ ongoing holdout from the Chiefs, which he discussed in an unusual news conference before walking in the building. But I did want to highlight the ensuing the hour, even if that’s part of the design of the trip. The Ronald McDonald House provides residence for the families of sick children while they receive care at locations nearby, commonly Children’s Mercy. With a black apron twisted and tied around his waist, Jones handed out food to kids and their families, pausing for pictures along the way. One kid, 8-year-old Jaxon Kress, dressed the part — a Chiefs jersey, gloves, a gold chain with a gigantic Chiefs logo for a pendant. When Jaxon saw Jones, he rolled his hand around his ear, mimicking Jones’ attempt to louden a crowd. Morris, who sat in the back, has been here for seven months, to the point that it feels like a second home.
And let’s be clear: No one would want to call this place home. Joining her on the two-hour wait: a book, green and white across the cover, with a framed picture in the middle. It’s six-month Kingston, her son, who was born without a right hand or left foot. He is also missing part of his jaw, and his opposite hand is not fully developed, either. He has spent his life as a patient in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. “My miracle baby,” Morris calls him. Twenty weeks into her pregnancy, Morris learned through a scan that the challenges of her motherhood would entail a few extra layers. A team of doctors at Children’s Mercy delivered Kingston with a rare procedure. Truth be told, they didn’t know if Kingston would survive birth. She had braced herself for that, but had a feeling he just might.
They’re shocked at his progress now, improving every day, she frames it before reciting a couple of his favorite toys. He is on the verge of sitting up on his own. Many of his physical limitations, though, will be permanent. “I’m always sitting in the hospital, and I’m constantly checking on him, so this is where I take time out and try to take my mind off it,” said Morris, from Milan, Missouri. In walked Jones. While Milan is more than a two-hour drive northeast of Kansas City, her family, she says, is comprised of a collection of diehard, watch-every-game Chiefs fans. She’s one of them. An email announced an unidentified guest in the morning, hinted it would be a Chiefs player, and she knew she needed something for him to autograph.
Jones’ excursion through the first floor of the house spanned nearly 45 minutes before he reached Morris. After a hug, she asked for a selfie and then an autograph. The book. Jones pulled out a black sharpie, then scripted his signature on the front. “It’s been a long journey,” Morris said. “But today makes you smile.”