MISSOULA — As the sun shone down on Washington-Grizzly Stadium last week, the Ross family of Great Falls basked in the sunlight in the north end zone.
With his parents Wes and Callie and older sister Kennedy by his side, 3-year-old Troy Ross wore his maroon Griz hat and his maroon No. 37 jersey and had a beaming smile across his face as he watched his Grizzlies win their season opener against Valparaiso.
The next day, Callie said her son looked pale and lethargic. They initially thought it was just a cold. By Monday evening, his face had begun to turn blue.
"We took him to the emergency room," Callie said. "Within five minutes, they could tell it was not good."
A short time later, emergency room staff in Great Falls told Callie and Wes that their son needed to be airlifted to Seattle Children's Hospital. Callie said no one was sure about their son's potential diagnosis, but leukemia or internal bleeding hadn't been ruled out.
"They just didn't know and they didn't have the capabilities in Montana to even tell us," Callie said.
Before Troy was flown to Seattle, doctors had to put him on a ventilator because his breathing had rapidly deteriorated.
When the Ross family landed and made their way to their son's hospital room, they were greeted by a large trauma team of 20 people, according to Callie, who were working on stabilizing Troy.
He wasn't stable for long.
"Tuesday afternoon, he just crashed," Callie said. "We didn't think he was going to make it to Wednesday."
Doctors at Seattle Children's found out that Troy had been bleeding into his lungs, and they didn't know what was causing it. The bleeding has since stopped, but as of Monday evening, doctors hadn't yet found a diagnosis for the little Griz fan.
When Wes Ross, a first-year assistant football coach at Great Falls High, found out that Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson frequently visits patients at Seattle Children's Hospital, he began to text several people to see if maybe the Montana football team would be available to visit, since the Grizzlies were playing in Seattle that weekend.
"Lo and behold I got a phone call from Mr. (Kent) Haslam and he wanted to know if he could send Coach (Bob) Stitt and some of the players up to see our son," Wes said. "I just about lost it with emotion, just how much love they've given us after all the years of loyal support we've given the University."
When the team landed Friday afternoon in Seattle, Stitt, director of football operations Colin Bonnickson, quarterback Reese Phillips, center Cooper Sprunk, wide receiver Makena Simis and wide receiver, and Great Falls native, Josh Horner came to the hospital to see Troy, while the rest of the team went on a tour of Husky Stadium.
Troy was heavily sedated during their visit because he had a collapsed lung due to the high pressure from his ventilator. To help re-inflate his lung, a tube was put in.
"He had so many tubes and everything that (doctors) were worried he'd rip something out," Callie said.
Due to Troy being in isolation in the intensive care unit at Seattle Children's, all visitors must wear robes, masks and gloves.
"The only bad thing was they had all Bobcat colors on," Callie joked.
Wes said the team spent about 45 minutes in the room with Troy, taking pictures and just spending time. Callie said Stitt sat and held Troy's hand for a moment, while Simis played with Troy's hair.
The interaction brought up difficult memories for Stitt, as his youngest child, Sam, had a childhood illness that required hospitalization as well.
"When he was six weeks old, (Sam) came down with RSV and we were in the same situation," Stitt said. "I remember walking in the hospital room and he had an IV in his forehead and seeing his chest going the exact same way, it kinda took me back to that time. As a parent, it's awful. It was nice to take some pressure off the parents so they could get their mind off of that for just a little bit."
To the Ross family, those 45 minutes, the pictures and the autographed football meant the world.
For the players who visited Troy on Friday, the experience made them see things in a new light.
"It's pretty eye opening," Phillips said. "We play and we practice and you don't always realize what it means to a lot of people. To go, obviously it's a tough situation. I wouldn't say it's necessarily a good thing to be down there and exciting or anything, but it is good for us because it helps us understand what this team means, not only to Troy but to a lot of people across the state and many other places."
And for Horner, someone who Wes requested make the trip to see Troy, it meant just that much more.
"It was cool that they asked for me to come, somebody that he might have known, and it's cool to think that he might look up to me in the future," Horner said. "It's just awesome to know that we have fans that, even when they're in a tough situation, that we can do something to lighten that situation."
As the team walked out the door, Callie's emotions caught up with her.
"When they left, the players hugged me and of course I ugly cried because I was emotional anyway, but to have big football players hug you, it's a whole other thing," Callie said. "Montana is the best state to be from because they have rallied around us. To have the Griz do that when they were playing on a very big stage and they had a lot of other things going on, was amazing."
Wes felt grateful too.
"I can't say enough about the program to be able to do that, none of the players, the staff, felt uncomfortable or even frankly wanted to leave," Wes said. "They wanted to see Troy and love on him and hold his hand and it was a cool, cool experience. It was pretty neat to see that Montana could bond together in a time of uncertainty."
Troy has a big obstacle coming up. He has surgery Tuesday to take a biopsy of his lung tissue to help find a potential diagnosis.
"We don't know what caused this," Wes said. "We've been assured that nothing anyone can prevent. It's not contagious. It happened and we're asking people to donate blood. It won't come to Troy, we're not asking for that, but we're certainly asking, because without somebody having donated blood, our son would not have made the flight to Seattle. There's no questions about it."
For those wishing to donate blood in Troy's honor, the family asks that you take a selfie and use the hashtag #PintsForTroy.
The family has set up a GoFundMe to raise money for Troy's medical expenses. It's not yet known how long Troy will be at the hospital or how many more procedures he could need.