This Valentine’s Day we celebrate so many things, but we are especially grateful for the clinicians, patients and families who make up the heart of this hospital.  So in honor of a day when we celebrate all things related to the heart, we share the memories of Clay Copley, a physical therapist assistant, who recalls the time he spent with a very special heart patient.  Tysen was admitted to St. Louis Children’s Hospital to be treated for endocarditis, an infection of the heart, which resulted from a coarctation of the aorta. During this time, he was in a great deal of pain, and just getting up to walk the floor was difficult. Early on, though, he said his goal was to play sports again.  He often refers to Clay as one of the people who impacted not only his recovery, but his overall outlook while he was in the hospital. 

I first met Tysen after someone thought he and I might hit it off. He was reluctant at first about physical therapy because he was in pain and nervous. When I walked into his room, I took the therapist hat off and pulled up a chair to talk. You can’t just walk into a child’s room and hope they’ll do what you ask. You have to gain their trust.

I recall one day where he wasn’t too happy with me because I had him walk a full lap around the unit, and then I said he was going again. He later asked me if I thought he’d ever be able to play football again. I said only if the doctors cleared him, and if they did, we had work to do. From then on, I set out to help him meet his goal and incorporated football into the work we were doing. We had to maintain all of the precautions, but we had a goal.

Tysen was successful at getting better because he had a super supportive family and friends. Each child I work with is unique, and Tysen was self-driven to get better. When you can find what a patient wants to do, like play sports, then that is key to physical success.

I’m a huge advocate that you have to treat the patient and treat the family. If the child trusts you, then the parents are usually OK with what their kids can do. Tysen was one of those kids who just stood out because he wanted to get better.

He later wanted to say thanks to the hospital, and it was so cool that he had a birthday party and asked his friends to make donations to the hospital instead of buying gifts for him. He also came back to visit and gave me a framed picture of him in his football uniform. I was smiling from ear to ear when he gave it to me.

There are so many reasons why I enjoy working at Children’s and being a part of the healing process for these kids with an amazing staff of people. To learn a lesson in life from a 7- or 8-year-old is really humbling, and it puts everything into perspective when you see families and what they go through.