A surprise visit to “Brother O” comes straight from the heart



Omar and family

A Riley adult heart transplant patient gets a boost from members of his Chicago poetry family, who traveled to Indianapolis to present him with a special award.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

“Brother O” was most definitely feeling the love at Riley Hospital for Children on Saturday night.

Omar Gadling, known as Brother O among his Chicago-area poetry peers, thought he was heading down from his hospital room to get an ultrasound, he said. Which was weird, he thought. Why would he be getting an ultrasound on a Saturday?

Nurse Janiel Kramer didn’t let on, even as she led him down the elevator to Riley’s first floor.

Turns out, he was in for a night of celebration, thanks to the surprise visit of his family and fellow members of P.O.E.T., an artist/activist movement founded in 1990 by DeAndre Hawthorn, better known as “Blaq Ice.”

The group planned this surprise visit with help from Riley social workers to lift Gadling’s spirits and present him with the 2022 National Spoken Word Award for Overcomer of the Year.

The evening was part poetry slam, part church service, part reunion with a heavy dose of upbeat music and words from the heart, all taking place in a conference room on the first floor of Simon Family Tower.

Gadling, 47, has spent the past year waiting for a new heart while inpatient at Riley. Today (Nov. 14) marks his one-year anniversary at Riley, but he has endured multiple surgeries since he was born with a congenital heart defect. Staying at Riley offers him his best chance for being offered a donor match.

When he saw the crowd that had gathered to welcome him, the soft-spoken man was at a loss for words at first. There were his mom and dad (Carlean and Robert), his cousins and his poetry brothers and sisters.

“Wow, I can’t put it in words,” he said. “Thank you all for coming down here to see me.”

Carlean Gadling said she knew from the day her son was born that he was going to be special. She didn’t expect that he would be transferred by ambulance within 24 hours to a Chicago children’s hospital, but her faith has sustained her through all the ups and downs.

“I knew he was a gift from God because he saved him time after time. This is one of God’s miracles, and I don’t say that lightly.”

The group couldn’t have agreed more, offering their own testimony in the form of poetry performances straight from the heart.

“Get your clap on, get your snap on! Turn it up at Riley Children’s Hospital for Brother Oooooo,” came the introduction.

The performances ranged from personal stories to songs to prayer, but they all delivered a similar message: “Keep hanging in there because God is working,” said one. “You’re not finished with your purpose yet.”

“I’m grateful to be a part of your heart,” said Janine “Nina Purple” Hall. “Brother O, we love you so much. Today, we shower you with love. Just know that God’s got you, and we got you.”

Hall has known Gadling for several years, ever since he showed up at one of the group’s poetry readings in Chicago with his poetry scrawled out on notebook paper.

The two even do a radio show, “Voices Behind the Pens,” on Monday nights – Gadling from his hospital room and Hall from her home.

“He has overcome so much for so long,” she said. “His strength and his courage and his hope to want to live, to want to be the best he can be, to help others is so amazing. Everybody loves him; we all just came down here to put a smile on his face and show him some love.”

Gadling was still smiling after the celebration. The visit, he said, “meant a whole lot to me.”

“It’s a reminder that you’re never by yourself and there are good people around you. You got to have a team around you. Anything you do, it takes a team effort.”

For him, that team includes his birth family, his poetry family and his Riley family – all sharing a place in his heart.