This Father’s Day was already guaranteed to be extra special for Ibrahim Khawaja.
Nestled in a room with his wife on the sixth floor of Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, the Houston attorney was still celebrating the birth of his third child and first son, an occasion so momentous that Khawaja brought a box of monogrammed chocolate bars to pass out to admiring visitors streaming in and out of his room. His two older daughters had just stopped by to see their new baby brother. Cradling newborn Elias in his arms, Khawaja was brimming with pride and thought to himself, “Life doesn’t get much better than this.”
Then Devon Still stepped through the doorway.
The newest defensive tackle for the Houston Texans stopped by the hospital just days before Father’s Day to congratulate a new dad during the happiest time of his life. Still’s surprise visit marked the launch of a new partnership between Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and Dove Men+Care to honor all new dads by providing them with “Dad Care Packages” stuffed with items they need to take care of themselves during those initial few days, so they can focus instead on caring for their families.
As an endless advocate for his daughter who battled cancer for a year, Still has been a powerful public example of a father’s fierce love. Two years ago at age 4, Leah Still was diagnosed with a rare, advanced-stage pediatric cancer called neuroblastoma, which has a grim survival rate. The news was devastating, but the family vowed to fight with all they had. A defensive end with the Cincinnati Bengals at the time, Still opened up to the world about his daughter’s devastating diagnosis. He attracted legions of new fans as he posted pictures on social media of the pair fist-bumping before her surgery. Fans cried with him as he wore his daughter’s name on a band across his face and tears streamed from his eyes during a televised game between the Bengals and the New England Patriots that featured a tribute to Leah and other children fighting cancer.
Still said he has tried to use his platform with the National Football League to raise awareness about pediatric cancer.
“After Leah was diagnosed, I didn’t see too many stories about pediatric cancer and it made it a hard battle for me and my family because there were no guidelines on how to handle it,” he said. “We felt by going public with our story, we would give those fans who are enduring the same circumstances the motivation to continue to fight, but also make more people aware so they can step up and help out those families going through the same thing we were.”
Although Still may be new to the Texans and won’t play his first game on Houston turf until the fall,Khawaja, a loyal Texans fan, immediately recognized the former Bengals player when he walked through the hospital room doorway. Like others across the nation, Khawaja had been gripped by the Still family’s story and touched by Still’s emotional response to his daughter’s fight. And like other Texans fans, Khawaja was thrilled when his team signed such a positive, paternal role model to a futures contract last January.
As Still reached out to shake his hand, Khawaja broke into a wide grin and handed over his sleeping bundle of joy. Tiny baby Elias, only one day old and weighing just 6 pounds 3 ounces, looked even smaller swaddled in the massive arms of the 6-foot-5-inch-tall defensive lineman.
“Can you believe it?” Khawaja said. “You’re holding my son! And hopefully those hands are going to get 23 sacks this year.”
“I’m hoping so too!” he said.
As he cradled Elias in his arms, Still allowed himself a moment of wishful thinking.
“I really want a son,” he said. “I can’t wait to have this day someday.”
Still spent time with the Khawajas in their hospital room, posing for photographs, autographing a Texans T-shirt and a football, and handing the new father a care package with skin, face, hair and deodorant products. For Still, the moment was a perfect opportunity to give back to the fans who have supported his family and cheered his daughter’s progress along the way.
“Our life is back on track,” he said. “These past two years have really been a whirlwind for me and my family, but now it now seems like everything is turning around with my daughter being in remission and this new opportunity with the Texans.”
For Khawaja, it was a moment that will be etched in his brain forever.
“I thought it was pretty incredible for him to hold my son and see the discrepancy in size,” he told a reporter with KTRK-Channel 13. “I thought it meant a lot that he came out and showed the people of Houston that he cares.”
Memorial Hermann would like to wish Ibrahim Khawaja, Devon Still and all the other fathers out there a very happy Father’s Day!
Watch Devon Still’s Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital visit here.