Kay Tangner embraced an opportunity to volunteer at The Children's Hospital
Kay Tangner cried.
She had almost walked away.
Tangner tried to walk out. A nurse at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center insisted otherwise.
“I cried for being so wrong and misjudging and almost missing out on what I knew just opened my eyes to an answered prayer,” Tangner, 59, said of her emotions afterward. “I had been searching for God to show me what I would do, what would be His will — not mine — and show His love.”
Tangner had read in the newspaper about a second-grader named Peyton Johnson at Quail Creek Elementary School. He needed a bone-marrow transplant. To help financially, the school held an auction that was successful. But in addition, cards had been gathered and students had a stuffed dog named Crusader for Peyton. Tangner was a parent of a child at that school and offered to make the delivery.
She went to the nurses' station and asked the items be delivered to him. The nurse told her she could go back. She'd even walk her back. Tangner said no. But, they started in that direction.
“Before any of those immature thoughts could enter my selfish brain,” she said, “I was looking at a boy who could have just as well been my little boy peeping over the sheets smiling at me and talking to a mom who was thanking me for coming.
“When it was time to go, we hugged like we had been friends forever.”
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So, what if she'd walked away? Many children and their parents and others would not like to think about that.
This is Kay Tangner who in the 1990s started the art program in The Jimmy Everest Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in Children, and a volunteer program was started. With the help of so many, successes have been numerous.
Tangner remembers that the room would be packed with patients, their siblings sitting around the table doing art or whatever the project would be. The parents would be talking and supporting each other and comparing their own cancer notes. The parents commented about how their child “looked forward to coming to their appointment because they know they are coming to the art room and see their friends.”
“We have had more fun creating fun projects for the patients,” she said. “We have had a prom, a candy store, July Fourth parades, an Olympics, a malt shop, tea parties and many other fun times.”
The volunteer base grew and grew to at one time about 20 people.
Creations that have emerged from the art program are numerous. One time they made a chain of pipecleaner hearts that wrapped around The Children's Hospital 2½ times. In 2000, the children painted 1,000 clothespin dolls that hang in the hospital today.
“We had a Love is in the Air valentine campaign which went around the world and we received over 5,000 valentines,” she said. “We have had special Mother's Day celebrations complete with makeovers and flowers.”
Tangner remembers in the art room hearing a boy with cancer ask another boy, about 5 years old, “What is that bump on your head?”
“Cody looked up and shrugged his shoulders and without missing a beat said, ‘Oh, it's just a tumor,'” Tangner said. “That was the end of that. They both went back to their art.
“Kids know how to handle cancer better than adults. My hope for the art room was to have a happy place right in the middle of a stressful place to take your mind away from what you are really there for in the first place.”
Just an example
The art program is just an example. So much more might never have happened if in 1993 Tangner had dropped off the gifts for Peyton and walked out.
For example, one child she met at the hospital, Alison, talked openly with Tangner a few nights before she passed away. Alison lost her leg to osteosarcoma. She relapsed with leukemia. She had a bone-marrow transplant. Despite it all, she loved.
“I asked her if there was anything she wanted me to pass on to others for her,” Tangner said. “‘Yes. I want you to tell others that God is always with you. No matter what or how bad, God is always there.' Alison was only 10 but I looked up to her as if she were 10 feet tall.
“She told her dad the night before she earned her wings, when he picked her up to take her to bed, ‘Don't worry, Daddy, tomorrow will be a better day.'”
‘We became friends'
When Tangner got ready to leave the day she met Peyton, she said, “See you next time.” And then she thought, “What did I just say?”
Tangner went back.
“Oh yes, I went back to see Peyton and his mom,” she said. “We became great friends. He inspired me through his 100 days post-transplant. He inspired me when he was homebound and couldn't go to school ‘til his counts came up. He inspired me throughout middle school and high school when he won numerous awards on his science fair project relating to various ZIP codes and cancer and went to nationals three times. He inspired me when he graduated magna cum laude from OU.”
Peyton Johnson, who had been given a 5 percent chance to survive acute myelogenous leukemia, is married and in his third year of medical school in Kansas City. His mother is a volunteer in the art room in the Jimmy Everest Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in Children.
Why has she been able to be a part of so many lives? Tangner believes God has blessed her, including that day at the nurses' station when she did what she needed to do, instead of what she wanted to do. Johnson is thankful, to this day, Tangner came back to see him.
“Kay was my buddy through that whole thing,” Johnson said. “We'd do art projects, she would always take me to Wendy's to get chicken nuggets. She just made me feel normal.
“Kay has the truest, purest heart of any person I've known. She is so selfless and truly giving without expecting anything in return.”