In fall 2019, Jaquez started his senior year of high school with the intention of playing football, basketball and baseball, celebrating at prom and graduating with his classmates. But by October, he started noticing a persistent cough that medication couldn’t help. The cough got so bad that he passed out at school one day. It was time to see a doctor.
Jaquez visited Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago in hopes of finding a remedy. Several rounds of scans and tests revealed that his heart wasn’t pumping blood throughout his body as well as it should. Within weeks, it was determined that he would need a heart transplant.
“Scariest moment of my life,” recalls Jaquez’s mom Jaquette. “We just didn’t see now it could go from this happy, healthy active kid to total transplant.”
Jaquez took the news hard at first. In addition to fear about his health, it was difficult to be separated from his classmates and friends. The normally happy Jaquez began to feel depressed and angry.
Then, he met George.
“The first time I met George, it was like somebody turned on the sunshine,” says Jaquette. “All of a sudden, my son found someone he could talk to and be free with.”
An adolescent activity coordinator at Lurie Children’s, George and Jaquez immediately bonded. As a member of the Children’s Services team, George and his colleagues play a key role in the emotional and psychological well-being of hospitalized kids who are often anxious about the future and their health concerns.
“A lot of patients, when they come into the hospital, they kind of lose themselves, they don’t know how long they’re going to be there or what’s to come” says George. “I help those patients get away from their room or their procedure, and provide some fun for them.”
Supporting a child’s social and emotional well-being is standard at Lurie Children’s. But it’s grown particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as safety restrictions limit the amount of family who can visit each patient. Now, more than ever before, it’s Children’s Services employees, like George, who step in to provide comfort and a sense of normalcy to hospitalized kids. “George is the best,” says Jaquez, smiling. “He’s like a mentor to me.”
After six months in the hospital, Jaquez received a new heart in June and made a strong recovery. Just two weeks later, George and the rest of his caregivers lined the hallways of the Heart Center and gave Jaquez a proper high school graduation ceremony.
“This was almost like the Super Bowl,” says Jaquette. “To watch him in his cap and gown, proudly walk down the hallway just days after having a heart transplant. The staff at that hospital is amazing.”
“So many emotions,” recalls George. “That right there let me know we are doing good work.”
Family Services at Lurie Children’s would not exist without donor support. Please give today and help people like George, help kids like Jaquez.