My family’s relationship with Children’s Hospital Colorado began a year and a half ago when my daughter, Kailee, suddenly fell critically ill. Our fiery, brilliant 11-year-old went from thriving to fighting for her life in the space of a few hours. Her illness quickly progressed from forgetting words and names, to seizing uncontrollably, to being placed into a medically induced coma.
To say that our lives were flipped upside down would be inadequate. Quite simply, life stopped. For two and a half months in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and later on the rehab floor, we were focused completely on bringing our daughter home as close to whole as possible.
As a parent, and particularly as a father, our instinct is to help and protect our children. There is nothing we wouldn't do, no length we would not go to, no trial we would not endure for our children. We would leap the tallest buildings and stop the fastest speeding trains. We do our best – hopping a few hurdles here, dodging a few potential disasters there – and we go on about our day. Until one day, when a train comes so blindingly fast we have no chance to move or even prepare for impact.
It is so easy to second guess our choices up to this point; to focus on our failures, real and perceived, and to imagine how we should have or could have acted differently to prevent this catastrophe. In these moments, it is very hard to accept the reality of the situation.
We are not Superman. We can’t stop the trains. In every life, invariably, a train will come, and it will devastate us.
This year, Kailee was selected to be a Patient Ambassador for Children’s Hospital Colorado. At the kickoff event, she was asked what courage means to her. Kailee’s answer was simple: “Courage is contagious.” This was a “proud papa” moment for me. Her simple one-word response was absolutely correct, and it came at a time when she was experiencing heavy seizure activity and struggling to recognize people or find the words to express herself.
I’ve thought about this moment often, mostly for the sense of assurance it brought me that my daughter was still there, just obscured by the fog of her illness. I have also reflected on the truth of her statement, as demonstrated by the actions of the many doctors, nurses and support staff who were involved in her care at Children’s Colorado.
It takes courage for a doctor or nurse to suggest to distraught and grieving parents, who are trying desperately to comfort and help their child, that there is a better way, or to ask them to step aside so that they can work. It takes courage to be honest about the status of the child -- to risk having the parents lose hope for the future in order to keep them apprised of the realities of the present. It takes courage to come back and do it all again tomorrow. Superman himself doesn't possess this kind of courage. This level of courage requires some sort of risk, and ultimately, what real risk is there for Superman? I would argue there isn't one.
The staff involved in Kailee’s care was wonderful. When she was in the hospital over Christmas and New Year’s, many of her doctors and nurses had planned to take time off. Even while on vacation, they researched her case, and they called in with new information and to check on her status. They sat with us, instead of in their breakroom, to find out more about Kailee and to comfort and encourage us. They corrected us as needed, and they listened to us and each other respectfully in discussing her course of treatment. Through their efforts, they allowed us to be the parents Kailee truly needed. They felt each setback as personally as we did, and they cheered just as joyfully for each success.
We don’t live in Metropolis, but there are real heroes right here in our world. These heroes don’t wear capes; they wear scrubs. These heroes can't stop the trains, but they can help us survive them. These heroes don’t leap over the obstacles; they help us overcome them. The staff at Children’s Colorado is full of real heroes, and they make a lasting difference in the lives of their patients and families every single day.