Hospital Volunteer Helps Kids Do the Math
At Children's Hospital Oakland the term "miracle worker" is usually reserved for the physicians, and rightly so. They are, after all, the ones busy saving lives on a daily basis.
For a number of patients and their parents, though, the term sums up perfectly how they feel about Jerry Brody.
For the past 15 years, Jerry has be volunteering his time, twice a week, tutoring patients at the hospital in math.
"He's amazing," Jaime Dequine says. "I don't think I can thank him enough."
Jaime says before meeting Jerry for the first time, her 11-year-old son, Philip, was in tears over his frustration with fractions. As with many seriously ill children, Philip is away from school for long periods of time while receiving treatment at the hospital.
Like he does with many reluctant pupils, Jerry broke the ice by teaching Philip a little chess before moving on to the subject at hand. By just their second meeting, Philip was cruising through fraction worksheets with a smile on this face (and had stayed up past his bedtime playing a chess app on his phone, looking forward to another game with Jerry).
Jerry, a retired Chevron engineer, came up with the idea of volunteering one day while passing the hospital on this way to work. "I thought, well, I'll go inside and see if they have anything that I can do." It was then that Jerry learned there is a hospital-run school on the campus. The goal is to prevent the children, some of whom spend months at a time at the hospital, from falling too far behind at school.
For Jerry, a life-long lover of math, tutoring turned out to be a perfect fit. "It was always in the back of my mind that, at some point, I'd like to teach."
Some patients he sees just once, others he sees on-and-off for months or years. He is never happier than when he doesn't need to see them any more. "The thing that sustains me," Jerry says, "is that most children get well. They get better and they leave."
Every once in a while, though, Jerry learns what his former pupils are up to. And that can feel good too. Take the case of Jaime Esquivel.
The 22-year-old college student spent many hours with Jerry as a young boy battling an aggressive form of cancer. Jaime missed some of sixth grade, and all of second grade. Instead of falling behind in math, though, Jaime actually excelled, he says, thanks to Jerry.
"He's a smart man," Jaime says. "He's got a great heart."
Jaime says Jerry's influence has lasted must longer than his time in the hospital. Jaime's major at the University of Nevada Reno is applied mathematics. Jaime credits Jerry with not only influencing his course of study, but the direction of his life.
"Anybody who dedicates himself to help people like that," Jaime says "can have a significant mark on their life. And that's just what happened to me."
"Those are the things you live for," Jerry says. "Those are the uber-success stories."