Children's hospital housekeeper helps forge a friendship between two boys who were in isolation
By Caitlin O'Kane
/ CBS News
Usually doctors and nurses are the heroes in a hospital, but for two young boys at Cincinnati Children's, it was a housekeeper who made a huge impact on their lives.
KJ Upshaw is a floor tech in the hospital's environmental services department, but he refers to himself as a housekeeper. While working in the bone marrow transplant unit, Upshaw met two special patients. One was Cohen Bramlee.
"I kept running into him a couple of days and I noticed he had a lot of Legos in his room and he likes to build with them," Upshaw said in a video produced by Cincinnati Children's. "I eventually end up grabbing his laundry and going right next door and there was another kid about the same age as him doing Legos."
That kid was Keegan Adkins. Upshaw told the boys the should show each other their Legos, but there was one problem — they were both in isolation to protect against infection.
The boys couldn't visit each other or meet in the playroom. So Upshaw found a way for them to connect, through the window in their hospital room door. The boys were separated by a wall, but could still show each other Legos, and Upshaw would share messages between the two.
"It was kind of like a daily report on what the other child was building," Cohen's mom, Carrie Bramlee, said in the video. "And so, he kind of enjoyed hearing about what someone else had in common when he was here."
Bramlee said being able to talk to Upshaw also brightened her son's day. "Our world is pretty small right now," she said. "We are in that room, and Cohen was in isolation, he couldn't leave. It was just a bright spot in the day when [Upshaw] would come in and sit there and just chat with Cohen for a second."
Eventually, Keegan was able to leave the hospital and go home. And around this time, Cohen was well enough to see him in person while wearing a face mask. The boys met face to face, without a wall between them, for the first time, and Cohen gave Keegan a farewell gift — a Lego set, of course.
If it weren't for Upshaw, the boys wouldn't even know each other. Now, their moms are planning a playdate outside the hospital, when they're both well enough.
"Everyone is an important role-player in these children's lives," Bramlee said. "It's not just doctors and nurses that come in, and therapists. Everybody who enters that room is part of our journey and our world."
Upshaw entered that room almost every day, and he brought friendliness with him. "When you see someone who didn't have to take the time to actually engage make you feel a little bit brighter about your day and they do, it just means a lot," she said.
When Bramlee told Upshaw how important he was to the boys, he said they were important to him, too. Sometimes, friendship is the best medicine. And sometimes, the housekeeper is the hospital hero.
First published on January 8, 2020 / 11:21 AM
© 2020 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.