Kansas nurse helps throw party for son of patient in vegetative state

Joel and Casey
Posted at 10:44 AM, May 11, 2021

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A University of Kansas Health System nurse went above and beyond to help a local family.

It all starts with a growing, blended family.

Steven Rodriguez found the love of his life, Ashley. She came with an added bonus of her 5-year-old son, Joel.

“We pretty much knew it was going to work," Rodriguez said.

The two got engaged and currently have a baby girl on the way.

Things were going great for the trio, but a day at the park turned their world upside down.

Ashley, Joel and Steven.

“Ten minutes later, Joel called me on her phone and he said, 'mommy is having a heart attack,'" Rodriguez said. “I said, 'hang up, call 911, tell them to trace your number and I am on my way up.'”

The 5-year-old called 911 to help his mom. Help arrived and they raced her to the University of Kansas Health System.

“She went 25 minutes with no oxygen and blood flow to any of her body," Rodriguez said.

Ashley is now in a vegetative state at the health system.

Her fiance said after she gives birth in a few weeks, he will discuss with her doctors what to do next.

“He doesn’t really get it but he has an idea of, if someone asks, he says yeah my mommy is in the hospital and is sleeping," Rodriguez said.

While all seemed lost, a nurse at the hospital took note of something.

“Just because of the timing of when she came in, we had cared for a couple of weeks and I learned that you know, Valentine's Day was coming up. It's extremely important to her and her son and they had this special little bond," said Casey Pickering an ICU Nurse at the University of Kansas Health System.

After taking care of patients during a pandemic, Ashley's nurses stepped in to brighten little Joel's life.

"Through the help of some of my incredible colleagues here, we were able to figure out how we could surprise him at his daycare to bring Spiderman to him and bring some treats to his classmates and bring a special Valentine note from his mom," Pickering said.

Joel and Casey

The special holiday brought some much-needed joy to the family.

“He loved it. He loved every second of it. He thought it was awesome," Rodriguez said.

It's also a moment that Pickering won't forget.

“It’s a calling. It's a passion and we want to make an impact, and we want to make a difference in people's lives," Pickering said. "We want to show up for them and really meaningful ways and we want to bring joy in the face of tragedy, and you know if I'm really honest, I needed to pick me up just as badly."

Pickering hopes Joel remembers the love his mom has for him, instead of her being sick in the hospital.

“I hope he remembers that he had a whole lot of people that cared so much about him and his mom and wanted to make a difference and wanted to make this incredibly challenging life-altering experience and situation for him a little bit better, give him one final really positive memory, to remember his mom," Pickering said.

This story was originally published by Jordan Betts on Scripps station KSHB in Kansas City.