As one might imagine, those who work in a children’s hospital bear witness to random and beautiful acts of kindness on a regular basis. In the last month alone, those acts have come in the form of dozens of pumpkins donated by community members to ensure there would be plenty on display for our annual Glow event for our young patients, and in the truckload of food donations collected by a local teen, so that our patient families in the community have enough to eat. A local hairdresser who gathers donations of beauty products to stock a “spa cart” for patient families who spend long days in the hospital. A nurse lovingly braiding the hair of a much-adored resident of The Steven and Alexandra Cohen Pediatric Long Term Care Pavilion on her discharge day. Another nurse bringing in her son’s necktie from home, so a patient can wear it when he meets his sibling for the first time. A longtime volunteer who uses his extraordinary wood-working skills to build custom seating to accommodate the specialized needs of our patients, enabling them to enjoy “circle time” with their friends. Tiny onesies and sleepers dropped off for babies born weeks in advance of their due dates, and pizza delivered to frontline workers with notes of thanks for their service.
During the height of the pandemic, small and large acts of kindness buoyed the spirits of staff and patient families at Blythedale amid so much uncertainty. For one patient in particular, those heartfelt acts served as a catalyst to inspire hope and healing beyond the Hospital’s walls.
In February of 2020, 14-year-old Charlie was playing basketball with his friends when he suddenly lost feeling in his hands. He was rushed to the emergency room and was later diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a rare neurological disorder in which the spinal cord becomes inflamed, causing pain, muscle weakness, and paralysis.
The same week that Charlie was admitted to Blythedale Children’s Hospital, the world shut down due to COVID-19. With visitation limited, Charlie’s mom, Jill, stayed bedside with her son for the duration of his treatment and connected with the rest of Charlie’s family, including his dad, sister and brother, over FaceTime.
“While we were there, the nurses, the doctors, the therapists, they became our family,” said Jill.
Charlie spent three-and-a-half months at Blythedale receiving comprehensive rehabilitation therapies. Upon arrival he hadn’t been out of bed and couldn’t lift his head independently. He needed to relearn how to sit upright, stand, and take supported steps. During that time, he witnessed firsthand how a simple act of kindness could motivate and inspire. His clinical team and his family encouraged him daily to pursue his dreams and never give up. “His perseverance, his never-ending optimism, his enthusiasm, it was so infectious to all of us,” said Jill.
“The patients and families we work with inspire us and humble us, and I think all the staff here feels the same,” said physical therapist Karen Levy, D.P.T., “We just want to do the best for those who come through here.”
When Charlie was discharged home, able to walk independently and shoot a basketball again, he had no idea how that thread of kindness would become part of the fabric of his life.
When Charlie returned to school to begin his junior year, he shared his story of what happened with his teammates on the Yorktown Boys Varsity Basketball team. His coach, Mark Pavella, remembered the one specific practice where Charlie shared his story, showing his courage and inspiring his team to go after their own goals.
“Charlie was really brave,” said Pavella. “We felt like we had to do something, not only to recognize Charlie, but also the hospital for all the great work that they’ve done to help him.”
Last winter, the basketball team held a fundraiser and sold t-shirts that said #charliestrong, with the proceeds going to Blythedale. Members of the team presented a check in Charlie’s honor to Blythedale Children’s Hospital for $5,000 in March.
Charlie’s story created a ripple effect throughout the community.
The Yorktown National Honor Society held a laundry detergent drive, donating 49 bottles of laundry detergent to Blythedale’s Health Home Care Management program, ensuring that families in the community had access to the much-needed necessity.
The Yorktown Congress of Teachers raised $2,500 for Blythedale after seeing videos of the progress that Charlie made and the positive impact the Hospital had on Charlie’s family.
The Yorktown Central School District honored a beloved retiring teacher by donating an additional $600 to Blythedale.
And 252 bags of popcorn were donated to Blythedale’s occupational and physical therapists for the difference they made in the lives of Charlie and his family.
Charlie’s dad, Joe, reflected on the close connection his family and community have with the Hospital. “Ever since we’ve left Blythedale, it’s funny, we feel even closer to it now.”
As we enter the holiday season, we are constantly reminded of the ripple effect even the smallest acts can have on the lives of others and are ever-grateful to those who share their time, talent and gifts so generously with our children and their families.
Blythedale is New York State’s only independent, specialty children’s hospital. Our caring and highly specialized staff is dedicated to improving the health and quality of life of children with complex medical illnesses and conditions. Our Board Certified physicians, experienced nurses and supporting clinicians work with families to provide individualized, intensive and innovative medical and therapeutic care. Together with specialized school curricula and family support services, we help children achieve their rehabilitative goals and return to their communities.