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Primary Children's Hospital chaplains laugh, cry and pray with families

They listen, laugh, cry and pray with kids and their parents who are suffering. From Catholic Mass to LDS Sacrament Meeting, Primary Children's chaplain services provides emotional support and spiritual guidance.
They listen, laugh, cry and pray with kids and their parents who are suffering. From Catholic Mass to LDS Sacrament Meeting, Primary Children's chaplain services provides emotional support and spiritual guidance.
KSL-TV

SALT LAKE CITY — Jeff Fleming rides his Harley-Davidson motorcycle to Primary Children's Hospital, where he works as a board certified, clinically trained chaplain.

The facial hair? That's a bonus.

"It becomes sometimes a joke and sometimes a scary thing and, 'Oh, my gosh! That beard. What could be living in there?' And, 'You've got to cut that off,' to 'Oh, it's Santa Claus,' and kids wrapping around my leg," he said.

Earlier this month, Fleming visited 18-year-old Joshua Patterson who has cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening disorder that damages the lungs and digestive system.

"What scares you the most?" Fleming asked.

"Ah, just not knowing," Patterson answered from his hospital bed.

"You just don't know what's ahead," Fleming said.

Fleming is Episcopalian, but the chaplains at Primary Children's Hospital, as a team, are nondenominational. Patterson's mother, Melissa Searle, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says Fleming's friendship is vital.

"That's our lifeline here," she said.

Fleming, who holds a master's degree in divinity, called it is his life's work.

"There's many things we can't fix, but we can make a terrible situation less terrible," he said.

The chaplains help families during their darkest hour. Often it's through the simple act of friendship that they held with physical, emotional and spiritual healing.

Vicki Pond, another chaplain at the hospital, ministered to a family who lived there for three months with baby Emory.

"Look at Miss Emory. You're awake!" she said, peeking into her crib.

"I think I've always been a chaplain at heart," said Pond, who has seen firsthand the mind-body connection and said faith helps patients and their families heal. "I remember one night a dad said, 'Oh, you don't really want to hear my story. It's a long story.' I could look at him in full honesty and say, 'Time is what I have.'"

At the hospital they discuss the things that matter most.

"Until we engage the heart and the sense of courage and hope and strength and peace, and finding all those wonderful strengths, we're missing maybe the strongest motivator," Pond said.

Back in Patterson's room as he faces an uncertain future, his greatest concern isn't for himself, but for his parents.

"Do you think it's possible for them not to worry?" Fleming asked them.

The family chuckles. "It's just part of being human," Fleming said. "They know the Lord, too. God's there for them."

Searle was in tears.

"You don't want your kid to worry about you," she said. "You try to be tough. We try not to show emotion, but I think he can sense that."

In Emory's room, Pond bowed her head with the family and prayed.

"Our Father in heaven, we are so grateful for this beautiful moment in time."

For families facing the unimaginable, these spiritual leaders, however unique, make heaven seem not so far away.

Email: hsimonsen@deseretnews.com