By Jamie Udell – November, 2004
The dictionary definition of a hero is “a man of distinguished performance and admired for his exceptional courage, nobility, and strength” (the American College Dictionary). How does most of America define a hero? Most would probably say that their hero is a famous sports player, or maybe even a really hot movie star. Some might say it is a fireman or police man. Well all of them might be great people, and some might fall under the category of “hero”, but I would like to tell you now about a ‘different kind of hero’ that I knew.
The hero of my story is a four month old little girl named “Patience”. This is a true story that took place almost a year ago. Patience was part of a nursing home visit that was organized by my mom. When the weather permits, my mom tries to go and visit two of our local nursing homes at least once a month and she always brings along with her a couple of friends to help with the visit. They usually spend about two hours in each facility going into every patient’s room to say hello and bring smiles. On the particular day of my story the friends that accompanied my Mom were Diana and her baby Patience. What makes this so different is that Diana and Patience aren’t people, but instead they are both extremely tiny little ponies. We put little rubber bottomed slippers on their hooves so they don’t slide on the tile floors and we march them right down the hallways and up to the beds of the clients. My mom jokingly says how popular she is when she goes into these convalescent centers, but then she just laughs because she knows that it is really the ponies that is what gets everyone excited.
Diana and Patience are apart of a charity program that my parents run. My family breeds and then trains these little guys for them to be gifted to children with disabilities. While these ponies are in training we do community service with them – we take them into nursing homes, schools, Assisted Living programs – anywhere that they can serve and make people happy. Especially in the nursing homes, this is a magnificent experience to witness. The people that are clients in those care centers are all of the generation where they all grew up on farms and ranches. Because of this, the people in the nursing homes seem to feel closer with these little ponies more than to any other animal that visit there. There is a lot of laughter and there are also some tears. Many of their forgotten childhood memories start coming back to them, so the stories come flooding out. Mom says there is one old rancher at one of these nursing homes that has waited by the front entrance for days when he heard we are coming. Even the staff members at the centers get excited and like to follow the ponies around. It’s usually a big happy event when we visit.
The ponies have about a 1 ½ to 2 hour window of time that they can stay in each nursing home. Those facilities are usually kept very warm and with all of the fur that our ponies have, they could overheat if they stay inside the buildings too long. Mom is very, very careful to keep an eye on her watch to make sure the ponies get back outside with some water before they tire and get too warm. If they don’t get all of the way through the nursing home in that time, then on the next visit they just pick right up where they left off on the last one.
Mom and the ponies were just finishing up with their visit that day when the miracle happened. Mom says that it was one of those moments in time that doesn’t happen with a loud bang or lots of fanfare, but instead it was one of those soft quiet flashes of time that will forever be in the hearts of the people who witnessed it. By Mom’s watch, Diana and Patience were past the time for being at end of their jobs for that day. Even though they hadn’t made it down every hallway, Mom told the center’s activities director Kerry (who was with Mom because she likes to help lead the ponies) that their time was up and they needed to get the Diana and Patience outside. So Kerry led the group down a hallway that was the closest to the exit of the building.
They hadn’t yet been down this hallway on that day’s visit, but mom kept looking at her watch and didn’t allow the ponies to stop and visit anyone else. While in their haste to get out of the building, they started to pass one little old guy who was very slowly shuffling along the wall trying to walk. A nurse was following behind him with a wheelchair to catch him if he fell. Kerry asked mom if they could take the ponies to see the man for just a second. Mom looked at her watch again and told Kerry that as much as she would like to do that, Diana and Patience really needed to get outside. Kerry pleaded and promised to only take a moment with this man. Mom checked her watch again and while she really didn’t think they should stop, she agreed as long as it truly was only for a second. As they approached, mom saw that the man was dirty and had stains all over the hospital gown that he was wearing. Kerry asked the nurse why the guy wasn’t dressed and the nurse’s reply was that the man’s family never brings him any clean clothes. The man was moving painfully slow and didn’t seem to even register that they were near him. Kerry explained that the man was blind and almost totally deaf. If they cupped their hands and yelled really loud into his ears, he could register what they were saying, but other than that the world was closed off to this man.
The nurse gently set the man into his wheelchair so that they could get the ponies closer to him. As he sat, Mom brought Diana directly in front of the man and then picked up one of his hands and placed it on Diana’s back. The man could feel the fur, but didn’t know what he was touching. He brought up his other hand and started feeling the rest of Diana to try and figure out what it was. Mom said you could just watch by his expression that the wheels were turning in his head, but he didn’t have a clue what he had beneath his hands. “What is it?” he asked. He just kept working his hands up and down Diana, while Mom who was feeling guilty about the pones still being in the building just kept looking at her watch. Finally the man lifts his face and said “Is it a horse?” The nurse cupped her hand over his ears and yelled back, “Yes, Carl, it’s a pony.” Diana just stood very still and allowed the man to rub all over her. We believe that the man just assumed that Diana was a stuffed animal because of her size and the fact that she stood so still. Mom then moved Diana out of the way and brought Patience forward.
At three months old, Patience was only about 25 inches tall and weighed less than 40 pounds. Mom picked Patience right up and placed her on the man’s lap. The man was startled and his hands went right out to feel for what was on his lap. His hands were working diligently to try to figure this out. He lifted his face and said “It’s a baby one?” Again “Yes Carl” was yelled back into his ear. Just then Patience shifted her weight. Carl jumped. “Is it real?” he asked. The nurse yelled into his ear “Yes Carl”. Figuring out that the pony was alive brought a whole different dimension to the man’s touch of Patience. His hands worked all over her little body and then all of a sudden Carl started to cry as he hugged Patience. He was trying to smell her, feel her, love her – taking in the whole thing. It was funny because as tears kept on for a few minutes, Mom quit looking at her watch, knowing that this was a very special moment for Carl. All of a sudden, Carl lifted his head and his expression changed. His face just lit up and he burst out laughing. He kept hugging Patience and he was just ear-to-ear grin. The sound of his laughter made everyone else stop in their tracks. One of the other nurses who had been mopping the floor actually dropped her mop to the floor and stared. The nurse who had been helping Carl started crying. Kerry too had tears in her eyes.
Mom wasn’t totally sure what was happening, but knew that she was witnessing something very special. Once Kerry got her emotions under control, she started to explain. “Carl can’t see anything because he is blind. He also can’t hear what is happening around him. He never has anyone come to see him. He has lived here with us for about a year and a half.” Then Kerry started to cry again. “In that whole year and a half we have had him”, she said, “This is the first time we have ever seen him smile!” And Carl wasn’t just smiling, he was laughing while he and Patience bonded over hugs. And mom said later that it was a moment that almost didn’t happen because she had kept looking at her watch to quickly get the ponies out of the building. For that moment in time, Patience was the hero to not only Carl, but also to all of the rest of those who witnessed what had happened. To them, Patience had just brought out a miracle with Carl.
Patience continued to bring that type of joy to other people as well, so her stories didn’t stop with Carl. Over the next month, she visited 2 more local nursing homes, four schools, traveled all of the way to Las Vegas to go through more care centers there, played at a huge employee picnic for Southwest Airlines in Las Vegas, and had hundreds of kids come to visit her at our home – many of whom were disabled. She was the star to everyone who met her.
Unfortunately, we lost Patience a month after she met Carl. God called her home to play with the kids in heaven. She died of a common horse ailment called “colic”. It took her quickly and she was gone within just a few hours. We know that she is now running in pastures of gold. But the legacy that our little hero left behind, to Carl and hundreds of others like him, will not ever be forgotten. Patience might have been just a tiny little snip, and she might have been a different kind of champion, but she was a true hero to everyone that had the pleasure of meeting her.
Addendum: This is a true story. The convalescent home is Kolob Care in St. George. The name of the patient has been changed to protect his family’s privacy. Patience died in December of 2003. Just a few months ago, Mom was doing another visit to the nursing home with our ponies. During that visit, Kerry was relating the story about Carl to the volunteer who was attending with Mom. It then dawned on Mom that she didn’t see Carl anymore so she asked Kerry where he was. Kerry then shared that Carl had passed away. Mom was saddened and inquired as to how long ago it happened. Kerry thought and then said “It was about a year ago, around December I think.” Mom was stunned. She had always wondered why God took Patience home when she was doing so much good here on earth. Now we know – she went to be with Carl.