GRAND RAPIDS, Mich (WOTV) – A rare form of brain cancer proved to be no match for one West Michigan college student.
Years after beating the disease, he’s serving up a loving dose of fun to kids at the same hospital where he received months of treatment.
Thomas Sikkema was a Hudsonville High School athlete when he made his first trip to the ninth floor of Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in 2013. Kids as young as 1-month-old are treated there for serious blood and cancer-related diagnoses.
Today, 21-year-old Sikkema is a nurse technician on that same floor. However, his more popular title may be “friend.” Bekah Skrycki, 4, is one of Sikkema’s young patients who can barely sit still when she sees him.
“She saw him come in this morning and said ‘Oh, I really like that guy,’” said Bekah’s mom Amy.
Their bond is easy to notice. Sikkema’s relationship with Skrycki’s family began about three months ago when Bekah’s leukemia came back for the third time.
“We were saddened when she relapsed,” Amy Skrycki said, “but coming back up to the ninth floor was like coming home.”
Sikkema knows hospital staff plays an important role in the treatment process, especially on that floor.
“A lot of our kids – most of our kids – go through some pretty hard times,” he told 24 Hour News 8.
He also has firsthand experience. Sikkema became a patient at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital when he was 17 years old.
“I was playing left field and actually saw two baseballs coming at me,” he recalled. “That was the big first hint.”
Double vision, sleeplessness, and a few other concerning symptoms turned out to be a rare form of brain cancer. Sikkema said the tumor in his brain required quick action.
“Actually, if we didn’t catch it in time that’s what was going to kill me.”
He took more than nine months of trips to the ninth floor, staying for days at a time, but the treatment worked. He remembers the daily dose of compassion his now coworkers provided. It helped him decide to study nursing at Grand Valley State University, and about nine months ago he became a nursing technician on the ninth floor.
“This is my home now. It really is,” Sikkema said.
Sikkema doesn’t tell his patients about his experience when first meeting them and sometimes he doesn’t tell them at all. He said he just wants to be there for the kids.