February 4, 2019

A Children’s Hospital parking valet taught himself origami art so he could share it with children. For one little boy, that simple gesture means everything.

Coming in for treatment is hard for 5-year-old Ollie Faircloth, but seeing valet Mohamed Elshami brings a smile every time. Ollie calls Mohamed his friend. Mohamed calls Ollie his hero.

On a recent cold day, Mohamed Elshami greeted Ollie Faircloth at the Children’s Hospital parking garage.

Five-year-old Ollie Faircloth, his mom, Miah, and 9-year-old sister, Baird, have made at least two trips a week to Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt over the past 16 months.

Diagnosed in October 2017 with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma (ERMS), Ollie has received dozens of scans, rounds of chemotherapy and radiation and is facing extensive surgery in February to remove the tumor that has invaded his prostate and bladder.

But there’s one moment that Ollie looks forward to every time they come to Children’s — getting special origami art from his friend, Mohamed Elshami, a Children’s Hospital valet attendant.

Ollie Faircloth shows off one of the origami creations given him by his friend Mohamed Elshami, a parking valet at Children’s Hospital.

Elshami, “one of our favorites,” Miah said, makes paper hats, boats and airplanes out of construction paper for Vanderbilt’s youngest patients. He taught himself the traditional Japanese art of folding paper into a variety of forms a couple of years ago after a Vanderbilt University Medical Center patient gave him a how-to book on origami art and suggested that he make some for patients at Children’s Hospital.

“All of the valet parking attendants at Vanderbilt…see us and many other families that come to the hospital every week, every other day, or every other week and they become a part of their inpatient or outpatient experience,” Miah wrote on her Facebook page. “They are the first faces most families see when they arrive at Vanderbilt. They help with strollers, backpacks, and give high fives…they see these kids and families at their worst, at times, and always have offered encouragement to us!”

Elshami has worked at VUMC for the past five years, the first three at the main entrance of the Medical Center East garage and the last two in the Children’s Hospital garage. He came to the U.S. from Egypt 13 years ago.

Helping patients and their families by parking their cars means a lot to him, he said.

“I want them to know we are here for them. We can take a little bit of your stress away. You don’t have to look for a place to park your car. Come to us and we can do it for you.”

“Ollie is my little hero,” Elshami said. “I’ve loved building this friendship with Ollie and his family.”

He is a “starter,” meaning that he greets patients when they arrive, checks the car in, and then turns the car over to another valet attendant for parking.

“People don’t come here for fun,” Elshami says quietly. “It’s not a hotel. The kids who come here have health issues. Their families have issues. The most important thing is to give them a smile. Even if this just takes their mind away from what they’re worrying about for a minute, if they forget about what they’re here for, I feel like I’ve helped,” he said.

“It’s important to me to make them happy and feel welcomed. And I want the parents to know there’s someone here who doesn’t even really know you, who appreciates what you’re going through and how you support your kid.”

ERMS is a malignant soft tissue tumor that is formed from embryonic skeletal muscle tissue, which grows into skeletal muscles. These tumors, most often affecting children in their first five years of life, are commonly in the head or neck, bladder or reproductive organs. Ollie’s began in his bladder and prostate.

Several of the origami artworks created by Mohamed Elshami, all waiting for new homes with Children’s Hospital patients.

Miah said she has seen the impact the valet attendants have on other families, besides her own. “They are amazing, caring people. They see these people who are losing hope, yet they are quick to share their beliefs, quick to pray. They have added these kids to their prayer lists at church. I remember the first time I told Ollie that a few of the men were praying for him and others. He said, ‘wow, that’s hard work praying for all of these kids!”

The Missions Ministry at the Faircloth’s church, Brenthaven Cumberland Presbyterian Church, is asking members to write notes of thanks to the valets at Children’s Hospital for Valentine’s Day. They will be added to goodie bags that will be delivered to the valets by Ollie and his family.

“Ollie is my little hero,” Elshami said. “I’ve loved building this friendship with Ollie and his family. Miah’s Facebook post brought me to tears,” he said. “I shared it with management and my co-workers, not because I wanted recognition but because everything we do, we do as team.”

Jason Bucher, director of Parking and Transportation Services for VUMC, said the valet staff is encouraged to make those they serve their highest priority. “Mohammed’s intrinsic desire to help people exceeds our own expectations and makes us better,” Bucher said. “We are all lights along our patients’ pathway to recovery. Mohammed’s light shines very bright and we are proud to have him on our team.”

Elshami said he has been offered money by family members of patients to help buy construction paper for the origami. He won’t take their money. “I’m doing this from me to them,” he said.

He watches YouTube videos about origami and often makes a set of them at home to hand out once he gets to work.

“They take a little time to make and I don’t want to use glue or staples because of the kids. I’m trying to learn to make different things because some of the kids, like Ollie, come every week and they get tired of the same thing every day.”

Children will often ask for specific origami art. Ollie, he said, recently shouted from the car that he wanted a boat, even before his door was opened.

“If kids ask for a specific one, I will make it and put it on the (valet) desk for when they come back to their car. If I’m leaving, I’ll tell the others this is a for a specific patient. A promise is a promise. Kids never forget.”

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