This summer, I met an incredible young man named William Miller who changed my life, and the lives of everyone who got to know him. I want to tell you about him because I want to make sure his spirit lives on in the efforts of Extra Life players all over the world, this November 3rd. I think Will would be very into that.
If you are able to donate, know that goes towards funding life-saving equipment, and for funding crucial patient support programs like Streetlight, ChildLife, and Arts in Medicine. I work as the Assistant Director for the Streetlight program. Streetlight is a peer support program for adolescents and young adults who have to be in the hospital for long stretches of time, or who have to come in often.
A lot of patients we see have cancer, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell, or are waiting for an organ transplant. Our goals are to help patients endure long hospital stays, whether it’s through watching movies, playing games, finding any excuse to have a party, or if it’s just hanging out and helping people pass the time, vent, or just be.
We say in Streetlight, “We Get To Carry Each Other”, and believe that life's ultimate privilege and joy is getting to live it with the folks you love. Streetlight normally only sees patients 13 and up, but we were told by multiple doctors, nurses, and specialists about a 12-year-old boy who was years beyond his age. His mom described him as a 25-year-old stuck inside a 12-year-old’s body… and because I’m basically a 12-year-old in a 25-year-old’s body, we hit it off pretty quickly.
Will had just about played through every video game he could get his hands on. He knew the backstories, the intricate plot details, even the “conspiracy theories” behind all the video games we both loved, and we’d talk for hours about them. It wasn’t long after I introduced Will to Streetlight that he had a following of Streetlight volunteers who loved hanging out with Will, goofing around, and listening to all the hilarious and often profound things he had to say.
Will was actually the first person to join the Streetlight Gaming League, our online video game community in Streetlight that allows patients and volunteers to connect through gaming, text, and voice chat whether they are here at Shands or back at home (I'm repping our Gaming League Shirt in the photo, which patients get upon induction to the league). Will had his own YouTube channel where he made game reviews and hospital life vlogs. I remember seeing his intro for the first time. “Ripped Pheonix” was his name. The title shook on the screen to the sounds of dubstep video game music. I loved it.
His friends at Streetlight made sure he got a never-ending supply of great games to try out and review on his channel. He also had a habit of getting them into all sorts of shenanigans. Ask me sometime about our volunteers Logan, Michael, and Chris walking miles around hospital units to catch a Pokemon for Will on Pokemon Go. He wasn’t always the most eager to hang out, though. Sometimes we’d swing by and he’d be in terrible pain, or he’d be extremely down. He was going through more pain, complications, and struggles than most adults would ever have to bear in their lifetime.
Throughout it all, though, I could not for a second imagine a more perfect family for him to have at his side. His mom, dad, and sisters sat with Will through all his pain, heard his frustrations, and had an incredible way of letting the hope inside Will shine through even in the darkest times. We’d all talk about the crazy stories his parents had about Will-- all his memories, his jokes, his plans for his YouTube channel, his favorite gamers. Even on his roughest days, we’d hear him say a sarcastic comment or some words of love and knew Will was still in there.