In many ways, Akron Children’s feels like home to Dan Yeric. Born with spina bifida, he spent a lot of time in the hospital, undergoing multiple surgeries and receiving care from a variety of specialists. As a teen, he became a volunteer in 1993, eventually landing his current position as activities assistant in 2006.
When surgery was necessary, Dan’s late mom Cindie Knepper, who worked as a secretary in Akron Children’s nursing administration department, liked to have the procedures scheduled on Fridays so she could be with Dan as much as possible without missing work.
“I remember how bored I was being in the hospital, especially on the weekends,” Dan said. “There was one time when I was able to get to the playroom only to find that the games were locked up.”
As a volunteer he helped with errands, worked in the playrooms, and sorted the Heinz Baby Food labels the hospital once collected to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network Telethon.
“I used to say that you weren’t a volunteer until you sorted Heinz Baby Food labels,” Dan said.
He also recalled that during his sophomore year of high school, he was asked to keep a 2-year-old oncology patient company.
“For whatever reason, his parents weren’t able to be at the hospital, so I would go to his room to stay with him and watch TV or play with him, or even take him to the playroom to play,” Dan said. “Since middle school, I knew that I wanted to work in a children’s hospital. Working with that patient helped solidify that this is where I needed to be.”
Dan considered a degree in child life, but instead pursued a bachelor’s degree in social work, graduating from The University of Akron in 2013.
“I saw myself working in social work with oncology patients, but I’m happy to be where I am,” he said. “In my interview for activities assistant, I remember saying that I know what it’s like being in that bed as a patient. If the parents have to leave to go to work or home to other kids, they know I’ll be here to keep their child company, if needed. My goal is to not only do what I can for the patients, but also what I can for the parents. I can relate to the patients by what I’ve been through, but I also know how difficult it was for my mom.”
He’s able to empathize with patients who may be dealing with some of the same health issues he’s experienced. As an adult, he now has a deeper understanding of the stress and worry that creates for the parents, which reminds him of the special bond he had with his mom who was always there for him.
A typical day involves visiting patients, often at the request of Child Life or the floor nurses, to offer games or crafts he can do with them to alleviate boredom and take their minds off being in the hospital. He’ll also help coordinate special activities for patients such as getting them to open art studio days or musical programs in the Expressive Therapy Center.
“I primarily work with elementary and middle school-age kids on the inpatient floors, but will also go to the oncology unit or burn center as needed,” said Dan. “If they want to play a specific game, I’ll go find that game. It’s whatever the child wants to do. I try to connect with them at first by finding out about their interests or favorite school subjects, and asking about their siblings and pets.”
While most of the doctors he once had are now retired, a few such as pediatric orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Paul Fleissner, and pediatric urologist, Dr. Daniel McMahon are still in practice.
“One of the things I loved as a patient was how the doctors and I could joke around, but also be serious when it was necessary. I try to also use humor, like Dr. Fleissner did with me, to connect with the patients,” he said.
Dan hopes he can be a role model for patients as he lives life to the fullest.
“I bought the house that I grew up in and have taken pride in home ownership. I’ve had some remodeling done to make it more wheelchair-accessible. I recently took some time off to tackle a few outside projects, including painting the deck and clearing out some old flowerbeds to create new ones with plants that will attract more birds and butterflies,” he said.
He also likes to cook and his family agrees that he’s the only one who comes close to duplicating his grandmothers’ apple cake and brownie recipes.
This summer, he went on an Alaskan cruise as a solo traveler. Two weeks before he left, his uncle passed away.
“It felt like my mom and my uncle were there with me in spirit. I felt as though they were looking down at me and happy,” he said.