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On Jan. 29, ironworker John O'Connor applied the names of DFCI
pediatric and adult patients onto the beams of the Yawkey Center for
Katie Hayes knew she was going to be seeing her doctor and getting
chemotherapy when she came to the Jimmy Fund Clinic one recent morning.
What the 10-year-old didn't know was that she was also going to be
immortalized in steel.
Hayes was the very first pediatric patient to have her name
spray-painted onto one of the beams forming the shell of the Yawkey
Center for Cancer Care (YCCC), the state-of-the-art outpatient care and
clinical research facility currently being built on Dana-Farber's
Longwood campus. As she, her parents, and other clinic families looked
on from the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge Bridge on Jan. 29, John O'Connor
of the Boston Iron Workers Union Local 7 leaned off a ladder three
floors up in frigid, windy weather to inscribe the first names of
children currently in treatment, as well as members of Dana-Farber's
Adult and Pediatric Patient and Family Advisory Councils (PFACs) and
their loved ones.
Young patients taped posters bearing their names on the bridge's
all-glass walls for O'Connor to see, and then waved, cheered, and
pointed as they saw "ETHAN," "RONALD," "ANDREA," and others go up on the
beams. In the months to come, many more names will join them.
"I think it's cool," Hayes said, clapping her hands with excitement
after seeing "KATIE" emblazoned in blue spray-paint. "I bet they saw
your blue shirt and wanted to match it," added clinic Activities
Coordinator Lisa Scherber, who helped the kids make and tape up their
posters. Looking down at her shirt, Hayes smiled.
The painting process was watched eagerly through windows by the patients.
In a way, this is a repeat performance. During construction of the
Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Research Laboratories in 1996 adjacent to
the YCCC site, construction workers performed a similar honor – painting
hundreds of kids' names along with smiley faces and messages like
"IRONWORKERS THINK YOUR GREAT."
The workers were so moved by the children who peeked out at them from
the clinic windows that they "passed the hard hat" weekly to collect
cash donations for the Jimmy Fund.
"I saw the movie," said Hayes, referring to the award-winning film
short, Strong as Iron, that chronicled the 1996 event and was produced
as part of the Jimmy Fund/Variety Children's Charity Theatre Program
four years later. The memorable film, which was shown in theaters up and
down the east coast for several summers, helped spur millions in gifts
to the Dana-Farber. The movie trailer is available to view at www.jimmyfund.org/movie.
"When I look out at the Smith Building now, I still see those steel
beams and all the names on them," said Scherber, who helped coordinate
the name-painting then, too. "It was a totally spontaneous, magical act,
and the ironworkers got as much out of it as the kids. Seeing that
start up again today brought it all back."
One big change this time around is that adult names are also adorning
the beams, starting with "JOSEPH," "BRENDA," and "JOAN." Steel framing
will continue into April or May, as the Yawkey Center grows closer to
its 14-story height.
"When we told the Adult and Pediatric PFAC councils that patients of
all ages would be included, they were very excited and sent us back
dozens of names," says Deborah Hoffman, MSW, LCSW, associate director of
the Shapiro Center for Patients and Families. "You certainly don't need
to be a kid to get excited about this, and it's a great way of saying
we support all our patients and families."
Helen Fantasia, a non-Hodgkin lymphoma patient and an Adult PFAC
council member, says that adding adult names was a "wonderful" idea. "It
made me feel very supported, and very proud," she explains. "We're all
in a battle; some have been through it and are in remission, others like
me are just venturing in. But it's great to know somebody is thinking
General Superintendent Brad Forrest of Walsh Brothers, the
construction management firm heading up the Yawkey Center project, will
work with Scherber and others to get new requests on a regular basis and
– when possible – time the painting so that patients can see their
names go up. "But it's more than just about names," explains Scherber.
"It's about becoming part of the soul of the building where your cancer
will hopefully be cured."
Then, as Katie's mom Joelle Hayes reflected, patients who are cured
will know a piece of them is still with the hospital that saved their
— Saul WisniaSaul_Wisnia@dfci.harvard.edu