A Child, a Lion and a Lasting Memory


CATEGORY: News and Community

This is the story of a little nine-year-old boy who was living with a medical condition no child should ever have to endure: an inoperable brain tumor. Although it's a story that is difficult for most of us to think about, it is also a story about love, hope and even incredible moments of joy in the midst of terminal illness. It's about parents who found a way to support their child and spend quality time with him in his own home. Most of all, it's a story about allowing a little boy's dream to come true.

The story came to light when Michelle Miller, a pediatric social worker, nominated Jennifer Palmer, Team Leader of the Pediatric Palliative Care Team, to receive a monthly caregiver award sponsored by Busch Funeral and Crematory Services.

These are the words Michelle wrote on the nomination form:

I have been privileged to be a pediatric social worker with Hospice of the Western Reserve for the past 20 years.  My role is to provide for the emotional and psychosocial needs of the child and the family. This includes assessing those things that bring quality of life to children as they cope with a life limiting illness.

I had the absolute honor of working with a little nine-year-old boy who was battling two brain tumors, one diagnosed at 15 months and another at eight years old. Our team had been involved with his family for the past two and one-half years.  

My weekly visits included working with him and his siblings on expressing their feelings related to his illness, playing games, creating memory items, and just providing an overall supportive presence.  It was during one of my visits a few weeks ago, while playing a game called Adventure Park, which is about feelings related to being sick, when a life-changing moment took place. It was his turn to draw a card. He read his aloud, which said, "If you go anywhere in the world, where would it be? And with whom?"  He responded without hesitation, "I would go to the zoo. And I would go with you." He pointed to me.  

Days later in our team meeting, I shared what took place. Jennifer Palmer, my team leader, said emphatically: "You need to get this boy to the zoo!"

Two weeks later, I had the absolute HONOR of taking an entire day to make this happen for him. I was given the time to pick him up and take him to the Akron Zoo. We brought the wheelchair in case it was needed, but he walked the entire day, with no need for the chair. His favorite part of this day was going to the gift shop and walking around for 20 minutes looking at all the items in the gift shop. He was overwhelmed by all the choices. I reassured him he could choose anything he wanted. He kept looking at price tags, to which I told him,” It’s our treat. Don’t worry about that.”  He finally chose a big lion that he carried proudly with him throughout the zoo. 

My reason for writing this Is my need to acknowledge the attention Jennifer Palmer paid to the psychosocial needs of this kiddo. As a nurse, she was able to step outside her medical nursing role and recognize the invaluable memorable experience this would be for this little boy.

To those of us that have been to Disney World, in this little boy's world it was as if he was given the chance to go to Disney World.  His lion remained at the end of his bed and close to him up until he died one and a half weeks later.  
Thank you, Jennifer Palmer, for your attention to the true heart of what this work is all about.  This family has been comforted by the memory they know he enjoyed so much.  His eight-year-old only brother will take care of his lion now, as he would have wanted.
– Michelle Miller, Social Worker, Pediatric Palliative Care Team

 The Piper Samuels Pediatric Endowment fund was established to support the work of HWR's Pediatric Palliative Care Team.
To learn more, visit hospicewr.org/donate.

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