“Sgt. Mommy” shares love for kids every day

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03/08/2021

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Tamika Thompson delivers a side of joy with every meal tray she brings to Riley patients.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

At work, Tamika Thompson is a bright light, a jokester and an encourager. At home, she says she’s known as Sergeant Mommy with her kids.

She believes in hard work, order and generosity, lessons she is passing on to her sons, ages 10 and 14, just as her great-great-aunt passed them on to her. And she shares her creative gifts with the patients she meets at Riley Hospital for Children every day.

Thompson delivers meals to Riley patients as a nutrition services representative, but she brings them much more than food. There’s always a smile, a kind word and often a drawing on the back of their placemat.

“Parents can’t be there all the time, and kids are used to seeing nurses and doctors who poke them and give them medicine,” she said. “I bring them all the snacks and joke with them. They can’t see my smile, but everybody knows my raspy voice.”

Thompson delivers a meal at Riley

It’s not only her job to drop off trays, she says. “It’s also my job to remember names and rooms and patients.”

Patients like Lucas Grounds, a 15-year-old champion dirt bike racer who was paralyzed in an accident and spent two months recovering at Riley.

“I saw him before he left,” she said. “I always talked to him and his mom. He has such a good heart and lets off so much good energy, there’s no telling what he’s going to do in life.”

When 5-year-old Makayla Owens got her new heart and moved over to rehab, Thompson put on a jingle bell hat and a light-up necklace at Christmas time and danced into the little girl’s room while delivering her meal tray.

Thompson is witness to so many powerful stories of healing at Riley, and she prides herself on doing what she can to promote an atmosphere of hope and joy to encourage healing.

It comes naturally for her.

“It’s just who I am and how I was raised,” she said. “I was raised by my great-great-aunt, and I got my old soul from her. I always wondered why she took so many kids in, but she accepted all of us. I find myself giving back in a different way. I just have her heart, I guess.”

Anna King, director of nutrition services at Riley, said Thompson embodies IU Health values.

“She takes time every day to connect with patients, parents and caregivers. She knows when to just listen to their stories or frustrations and when to offer comfort,” King said.

King shares stories of how Thompson helped a nurse get a patient to drink his chocolate milk that had meds mixed in by telling him the nurse added more chocolate to it. Thompson also creates beautiful drawings for patients on the backs of tray mats, King said.

Thompson working in the kitchen

In fact, one patient who was getting discharged earlier than expected was so intent on getting the picture of an owl that Thompson had promised her that she called down to the kitchen so that Thompson could meet her in the lobby and give her the drawing.

“They said she’s not leaving without her owl,” Thompson laughed. “I had to hurry and finish the wings, and she was actually waiting for me in her wheelchair.”

Thompson gets inspiration from patient rooms, noticing what kinds of stuffed animals the kids have and creating little masterpieces she thinks they will enjoy.

Her joy comes from seeing their smiles and listening to their stories.

“You never know what’s going to come out of their mouths,” she said. “And some of these kids are really grateful. They ask me, how am I doing?”

The connection she makes with the kids on every unit of the hospital is what makes her special, King said of Thompson. She doesn’t focus on why they’re in the hospital but on what she can do to bring a smile to their day.

“I think she does it from the perspective of a mom,” King said. “If her sons were in the hospital, this is how she would want them to be treated. Tamika is all about putting patients first. We just love having her on our team.”

Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org