Lost in the laundry: a patient's stuffed animal lamb goes missing in action
Pants? Check. Shirts? Check. Stuffed animal Lamb? Check. As 19-year-old Kayden Reinke filled his suitcase and set forth from Ohio to the NIH Clinical Center his beloved "Lammie" was packed and ready to accompany him as he faced the summit of his medical journey.
The 34-year-old lamb was passed down from Reinke's mother to him. Lammie is "at a point in her life where her original material isn't there," said Reinke's grandmother, Rosalind Janezic. The past few years Lammie hasn't been coming to all of Reinke's medical appointments but, "we decided this is important. Lammie is going to come along. She has literally got him through so many medical emergencies."
Last October, Reinke had a bone marrow transplant in hopes to treat his immune deficiency disorder. But just days after the transplant, the key member of his care team filled with fluff had vanished.
"I come out [of the shower] and she's nowhere to be found," Reinke recalls. "I checked every little area in the room. I checked underneath the bed. I checked behind the bed…gone! I thought she had disappeared."
"We were just so worried that Lammie was never going to be found," Janezic said. "This is the second time she's been missing in action. Kayden had a procedure done [elsewhere] when he was really little, and she was missing in the hospital. The first time she was found. This time, [we thought], there's a possibility we may not. I think we both cried at night thinking we might never see this special Lammie again."
Reinke's nurse on 3NE, Tyhis Coates, quickly called the one person who could continue the search – Chauncey Buford, the Manager of Laundry Services for the 200 bed hospital.
"When you throw stuff in a whole bunch of linens its chances of being found are really slim," said Buford, who has been working at the NIH for 30 years. He estimates only about 30% of items can be found and recovered. The Clinical Center sends out roughly 1,200 pounds of laundry a day to be cleaned.
The nurse explained the situation of the young man, the family significance of Lammie, and that Reinke was just in the early and fragile stages of recovering from his transplant.
"Right away I said to myself, you know what, this is one that I'm going to have to put my hands, feet, everything in [to continue the search]," Buford said.
That's just what he did. Taking infection control precautions, Buford dug through upwards of 30 bags of soiled laundry. But, no luck.
"I called over to the [laundry contractor] plant and explained to them ‘I know I've called over watches. I know I've called over for blankets and all kinds of stuff. But this one is a hot one. We have a young patient over here and that lamb has been in the family [for a while]. I gave them the whole nine yards so they became a part of [the search]."
Then, fifteen miles away from the Clinical Center at the laundry plant, and nearly 72-hours since he went missing, the laundry contractor located Lammie.
"It felt much longer," Kayden said jokingly as he thought Lammie was lost closer to a week.
"One of the best things that could have happened while we were there, after his bone marrow transplant, was the return of Lammie," Janezic said. "We are so thankful to everyone involved to try to locate Lammie. We so appreciated it. Lammie is part of our family."
"I was just doing what I'm hired to do," Buford said humbly. "It's more than a job to me. It was a time for the Clinical Center to shine. That's what I'm always thinking when I'm in this office down here doing laundry. Which seems not to be a very important part at all, but I think no matter where we are and what we're doing we're connected to this symbolism. If one person does it for the team, the whole team shines. It was strictly done to continue what NIH is doing every day and that's just laying the red carpet out for patients."
While the reunion between the family heirloom and patient was filled with hugs and tears – it was also filled with water. Lammie immediately was given a "water park in the dark" rinse in the washing machine at The Children's Inn at NIH after her long adventure, Janezic added.
Reinke, nearly 9 months post-transplant, says "things are going as good as they can be" with his health. He will come back for his one-year appointment in Fall 2019 – but this time, Lammie will stay safe at home.
- Molly Freimuth