Those eyes!

By Jeff Sykes

Tell us your story.

September 16, 1969, I broke my neck playing High School football in Spokane Washington. It was during scrimmage, I was playing defensive cornerback and a friend of mine (Scott) had broke through the defensive line and linebackers and it was up to me whether he scored a touchdown or not. I had been playing football on teams since I was eleven years old. So, I thought I would really impress the coaches and stick it to Scott and put my head down to spear him with my helmet. The next thing I know I was lying on my back looking at the clouds in the sky and experiencing pain in my neck. The coaches rushed over and started asking me all kinds of questions. They didn't move me and called for an ambulance. A ride to the hospital that I will never forget.

I spent about a month or so (and one major surgery) in the hospital in Spokane. Then I was flown to Sandpoint Naval base and ambulanced to Children's for rehabilitation and more surgeries. My aunt (Avonelle Johnson) was a long time volunteer at Children's and would come by to see me almost every day. I was in a circle bed with traction hanging from head for the first couple of months to help me from getting pressure soars and keep my neck bones from collapsing. I was rotated from my stomach to my back about every hour. I was either recuperating from surgeries or involved in physical and occupational therapy. As a jock, I thought two-a-day practices were hard until I had to fight to gain some movement back of my arms and shoulders. I also learned that I had to depend on my mind and not my physical attributes if I was going to get somewhere in life. Not an easy task for someone who depended on his physical attributes his entire life. It helped having a girl their (Kitty) who had the same injury as mine but who had been there several months longer than me. My therapists would tell me that some day I would be able to do the things that Kitty was doing. There was no way a girl was going to be better than me.

What does Children's mean to you, your child and your family?

Children's is not a hospital; it truly is a "Miracle House". It's not just the doctors, nurses, therapists and staff but also the volunteers that make this the miracle house. If it weren't for the entire team helping to build me up both physically and mentally I wouldn't be here today. They gave me hope, encouragement and the determination to become a better person and want to make something of my life by giving back to others. A volunteer/mentor of mine from Children's is a big part of who I am today. His name is Phil Smart. He would crawl under my circle bed on his back and look me in the eyes and lift my spirits and give me hope and encouragement. It was great talking to someone not related to me or my case. I left Children's in July of 1970. The next time I saw Phil was at Children's in 1989. I had been volunteering at Children's for a few months and was late signing in at the volunteer office. I noticed Phil's name on the signup sheet and asked if that was Phil Smart senior. They informed me it was and told me what floor he was on. When I got to the floor, the door to the room he was in was closed. So, I went up to it and knocked. When he opened the door, I asked him if he knew who I was. He looked at me and said "I know those eyes!" Ever since than, we have stayed in close contact. I try to call him and/or Helen (Precious) at least once a month and on holidays.