This month, Travis Patterson and his 16-year-old son, Turner, are spearheading their seventh annual holiday toy drive for patients at Seattle Children’s.
It’s just one way the Pattersons give back to the place that saved Turner’s life and changed Travis’s forever.
Nearly 11 years after Travis first walked through Children’s doors, holding tight to a very sick Turner, he is a grateful parent, a dedicated volunteer and – since earlier this year – an engaged employee. In February, the journeyman electrician joined the Plant Operations team.
And he’s not the only family member working at Children’s. His older son (and Turner’s big brother), Tynan Patterson, works in the Nutrition Department.
When Travis makes his hospital rounds to work on the emergency generator or fulfill Fix-It requests, Travis brings the tools of his trade and something else – a type of compassion that can only come from been-there, done-that experience.
Cancer changes everything
When Turner, then 5, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in early 2003, Travis was all but paralyzed by the things he couldn’t control: his son’s pain, the cancer, the future.
So, he resolved to focus on things he could control. “I was going down a bad path,” he says. “I drank too much, smoked too much and weighed too much.” He knew those choices would get in the way of being the dad Turner needed for treacherous journey ahead.
As Travis and his then-wife, Kristi, fell into a routine that was anything but routine – trading shifts at home with Tynan, immersing themselves in Turner’s care – Travis made good on his promise to himself. He quit smoking and drinking. He cut back on unhealthy food. By Christmas, he had trimmed 150 pounds from his six-foot-five frame.
“Turner changed my life more when he was 5 years old than I will ever change his,” says Travis. “He may even have saved me.”
It’s a good thing Travis was in top form, because Turner’s cancer battle turned out to be a tough one that included remission, relapse and a bone marrow transplant.
Travis was by his son’s side through all of it. And along the way, the family found ways to leverage their resources to help other sick kids.
Donor drives and toy drives
In 2006, Turner’s cancer came roaring back after a year in remission. This time, his only treatment option was a bone marrow transplant.
When nobody in Turner’s family was a bone marrow match for Turner, Travis fought his panic by organizing donor drives through his union, IBEW local 191. In all, the drives registered nearly 1,000 potential donors, including members of the Washington Stealth, a professional lacrosse team based in Everett, Wash.; Comcast Arena and Microsoft employees; and Snohomish County Sherriff Department employees.
None of these donors matched Turner, but at least two matched other patients in need.
At the 11th hour, Turner’s match turned up in another part of the country.
While he was recovering from the transplant, Turner asked his dad to help him buy presents for other kids stuck at Children’s during the holidays. Again, Travis flew into action. “I went back to the union, which had been so supportive, and asked them to sponsor a toy drive,” says Travis. The answer was an enthusiastic yes. The IBEW local still underwrites the annual toy drive, even though Travis is no longer involved in the union.
This year, Travis is upping the ante with a friendly toy drive competition between the union and his new coworkers at Children’s. No matter who donates more toys, he says, the winners will be the kids and families at Children’s.
More than a job
Working at Children’s gives Travis not only gives him an insider’s perspective on the hospital, it also helps him see his work differently. “This place is all about the kids,” he says. “When we work to maintain this facility, we do it with purpose. I’ve been an electrician for 28 years, but my work never before had this sort of purpose.”
Every so often, Travis’s job takes him to the Cancer Care Unit. Recently, he met a young man going through what Turner went through. “I told him a little about Turner’s story, and he asked how he’s doing,” says Travis. “When I told him, he got a glimmer in his eye. He was in better spirits when I left.”
Turner, says his dad, “is doing great.” The high school sophomore is cancer-free, and is still followed by the cancer care team at Children’s. Some day, says Travis, Turner hopes to work at Children’s with his dad and brother.
Seattle Children’s patients, families and staff greatly appreciate all of the donations that we receive throughout the year. If you’re interested in donating, you can visit our donation form, and consider directing your gift to our Child Life Department by specifying “I want my gift to go to Child Life.” Your gift will help our families have a more positive experience while staying at the hospital.