Before He Died, His Room At Riley Filled Up With 181 Balloons

Blog Carter Mears

Carter Mears died at age 9, but his mom cannot forget the care and love he received from the pediatric intensive care unit at Riley. And that is why she will never stop telling of the kind deeds of the PICU staff and the story of Carter and his 181 balloons.

The balloons started showing up one by one by one. And then two by two. And then three at a time and in massive bunches.

Carter Mears loved balloons. They brought him great comfort -- their bright, shiny colors, the way they floated about, how balloons always seemed to be around for the happy stuff.

So, when Carter couldn’t be home for a big ninth birthday party, his family made a Facebook post asking people to send balloons to Carter at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.

By the time all the kindness had poured in, 181 balloons hovered inside Carter’s room, creating a happy, joyful, comforting blanket in the air. 

Carter would have just months left to live, but those balloons stayed in his room nearly 50 days -- from his birthday on Feb. 25, 2015, until he left Riley for hospice care that following April.

His mom, Kim Mears, will never forget the unending compassion of the Riley PICU staff. How they never blinked an eye at all those balloons being delivered to the nurse’s station.

How they never once asked for those balloons to be taken down even as they had to maneuver around them all those weeks in Carter’s room.  

“The PICU was amazing,” says Kim Mears, of Trafalgar, Ind. “They were there for us during some of the hardest times of our lives.” 

On October 17, 2015, Carter passed away at age 9 in the Riley PICU. He was surrounded by his family and friends, his doctors, nurses and staff, many who came in on their days off.

Kim Mears has never forgotten all the little things the PICU did for her family, including dad, Dave, and Carter’s 23-year-old brother Jackson. 

On Saturday, they will give back at the Pediatric Critical Care Walkathon at Riley, which celebrates survivors, remembers patients who have died and helps to raise money for critical care research.

“The amount of love shown to us,” says Kim Mears, “was unreal.”


Carter was the kind of person – in nine short years -- we all should be in life.

When he passed a baby with special needs, perhaps with a physical disability or abnormality, he would look at that child’s parents and smile and say: “Your baby is so pretty.”

If he saw a patient in a room at Riley without a balloon, he promptly would say: “Mom, that kid needs a balloon.”

Every kid needed a balloon. So, Kim or Dave would head to the gift shop and buy a balloon to deliver to that room.

“He had the kindest heart,” says Kim Mears.  

Carter was a lifelong hospital child. He was sick from birth -- failure to thrive, reflux issues and feeding issues.

At two years old, Carter was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. He had other health issues but was fairly healthy for several years. 

The Mears were first introduced to the Riley PICU in February of 2015, just before Carter’s ninth birthday on what Kim Mears calls “one of the hardest days of our lives.”

Carter had two seizures and a bowel perforation that required surgery.

“Even though that day was scary and overwhelming, we had a sense of security,” Kim Mears says. “The PICU was comforting to him. He loved all of the extra attention and felt safe.”

Today, Carter would be a sixth grade graduate. He would have loved taking part in Saturday’s walkathon.

And, in a way, Carter -- that little boy who loved balloons -- will be there. As part of the festivities, balloons will be released into the sky.

Riley Pediatric Critical Care Walkathon

Details: Saturday, June 9. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. outside the main entrance to the Riley Simon Family Tower (rain location is inside Riley Simon Family Tower). Walk starts at 9:30 am outside the Simon Family Tower.

Festivities: Optional 5K walk, games for the kids, mascots, face painting, LifeLine ambulance, Indianapolis Fire Department truck, and memorial balloon release.

Click here to register or for more information.

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Benbow via email or on Twitter @danabenbow.

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