Becky Boerner’s son Jonathan was a big Dr. Who fan. “One of Dr. Who’s famous quotes is, ‘I am and always will be the optimist. The hoper of far-flung hope and dreamer of improbable dreams,’” said Boerner. “That’s kind of how Jonathan was.”
In August 2017, the medical team at Cincinnati Children’s diagnosed Jonathan with Ewing’s sarcoma. He spent the next 32 months receiving treatment from the Hematology, Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation teams. However, the numerous surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy never slowed Jonathan’s optimism.
“Jonathan had a beautiful spirit. He was always smiling and brought joy to everyone he met,” said Krista Mann, social worker II, Social Services.
And Jonathan met a lot of people.
“He was always a sociable boy,” said Boerner. “He would’ve rather built some cool Lego creation than do anything athletic, but he was on an ultimate frisbee team at one point. More than anything, I think he just enjoyed the social aspects of being on the team. He would talk to everyone on the field and swap snacks with the other kids. I remember one time he spotted a kid sitting alone without a snack. He gave the little boy his snack and struck up a conversation.”
Making a Difference
Jonathan was a natural fit for our Patient Advisory Council, a group of patients that influences our future direction with their input, ideas and feedback. Members of the council are kind, inquisitive and engaging.
“Jonathan deeply cared about Cincinnati Children’s and the families we serve,” said Mann.
During Jonathan’s time on the council, much of the discussion concerned the new Critical Care Building (Location G).
“Jonathan loved going to meetings,” said Boerner. “And the people at Cincinnati Children’s did such a great job of making sure he could attend.”
He didn’t just go to meetings. Jonathan impacted actual design and function of spaces in Location G.
“When we started the planning for Location G, we didn’t want to make a bunch of decisions and ask our patients and families what they thought,” said Beth Moone, patient and family engagement specialist, Family Relations. “Instead, we wanted to talk to them from the beginning about their needs and wants. We preferred input over feedback.”
This philosophy led to experiences like Jonathan’s visit to the Location G warehouse mock-up.
In order to properly test, fit and experience various rooms, equipment and furniture for the new building, Cincinnati Children’s partnered with ZGF Architects and Messer Construction to build mock-ups in an off-site warehouse. Patients, families and staff were invited to the warehouse to test for efficacy. During Jonathan’s visit, he questioned the size of the shower.
Said Boerner: “Jonathan said, ‘I don’t think I can fit in there. Let’s see.’ So we rolled his wheelchair in and out, then we took him out of his wheelchair and placed him in the shower. Jonathan got a kick out of that.”
Jonathan also spoke to a surgeon’s board in 2018 about his experiences in critical care units and was a staunch advocate to include a movie theater in Location G.
“He and I kind of joked around about it, but he really did want that movie theater. He just thought it would be something great for other kids to enjoy, even though he knew he’d never get to experience it,” said Boerner.
Jonathan died in March 2020, and for Boerner, a challenging transition lay ahead. “Of course, losing Jonathan was terrible” she said. “But I had also grown to love the hospital. People like Krista did so much for our family while we were here. Leaving the hospital meant leaving a large part of my life.”
Continuing a Legacy
“It was an honor caring for Jonathan,” said Mann. “He had a huge impact on my career.” Krista wasn’t the only person that felt the impact of Jonathan’s legacy.
“Jonathan knew he wouldn’t be around for the Location G opening, but he was always thinking about the future and about how other kids could get better treatment,” said Boerner.
Boerner wanted to carry on her son’s legacy, so she joined the CCB Patient/Family Transition Planning Committee. “Honestly, I didn’t think I would have much to say, but the first thing they talked about was outdoor space, and I had plenty to say about that,” she said. “No one wants to stare at a brick wall when they look out their window. Sometimes you just really need to see the sun.”
Boerner continues to provide her valuable input and perspective as Location G approaches its grand opening.
“The process has been therapeutic,” said Boerner. “It’s nice knowing that my input can positively impact another family. And it feels good to know that I’m honoring Jonathan’s memory by doing something he so deeply cared about.”
There is one other way in which the Boerner family is honoring Jonathan’s memory. A donor paver walk will line the sidewalk by the Location G emergency room entrance. Donors have the option to have a quote etched into their donated paver. To honor Jonathan’s commitment to making Location G a great place for kids in need of critical care, Boerner and her family donated a paver with a familiar quote:
“Always, the optimist.”