Disabled and mentally ill youngsters need a friend who understands pain and the challenges of making the most of each day. The children in the cancer unit at the Seattle Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center have such a friend in Jeff Sykes.
Sykes, a software quality assurance focal for the Boeing Company, suffered a spinal cord injury in 1969 playing high school football. He has limited use of his arms, and no use of his legs. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from Eastern Washington University, and in 1983, was one of the first graduates of the Resource Center for the Handicapped (RCH) Technical Institute, in Renton. He is on the RCH Technical Institute’s Board of Directors, serving on a voluntary basis, as secretary treasurer.
Sykes has visited Children’s Hospital every Wednesday for the last 10 years to develop a one-to-one relationship with young patients. He tells them jokes, plays games, helps them eat and encourages them. He makes a special point of visiting young people with spinal cord injuries, to help prepare them for what lies ahead.
Sykes is also a member of a Children’s Hospital Guild to raise money for uncompensated care at Children’s Hospital, is on the Church Council for the Spirit in Truth Four Square Church in Kent, and is a booster captain for the Boeing Employee Community Fund. He and his wife, Beverly, after 15 years of marriage, adopted a son. Each Thanksgiving and Christmas, they provide another family with holiday cheer. Sykes’ volunteer efforts earned him the William M. Allen Award from the Boeing Company.
The children he befriends laugh when he is around. Recently, a small boy with sickle cell anemia asked Sykes, “Can I call you Dad?” The nurses and staff at the hospital find their work easier and their burden lighter when he is around. The physically challenged students at RCH pay attention to what he says: “You have to realize that you need to depend on your brain and not on your physical attributes. Life doesn’t end when you have a spinal cord injury.”
Sykes’ energy is unlimited; his enthusiasm for life and joy is catching. He is just one person, but his light shines very strong, particularly for his frail little friends on the Hematology/Oncology floor at Children’s Hospital.