Daniel Nachum of Tenafly, 17, recently became an Eagle Scout, the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouts of America.
This is remarkable, given that less than 10 percent of Scouts achieve this milestone.
Even more remarkable is that Daniel survived a childhood bout with cancer and decided to dedicate his Eagle Scout community-service project to pediatric oncology patients at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center.
“For me, this decision was a no-brainer because I was treated there for leukemia and remain a patient there at Cure and Beyond,” said Daniel, who has lived in town all his life and is now a junior at Tenafly High School and a member of Boy Scout Troop 86.
In remission since he was 7, Daniel nevertheless remembers that being hooked up to an IV limited his ability to hold activity books and other items meant to keep him busily amused during long hours in treatment.
“My idea was to create a hands-free activity pack filled with items to entertain or at least pass time for the kids,” he said. “I wanted to make something that they could attach to an IV pole, carry over their shoulder, wrap around the hospital bed, or even clip on to something.”
Daniel spent many hours researching how to turn his concept into reality. “Once I had my prototype, I presented it to staff at the hospital. We visited the inpatient floor and tested the unit out. Within a week the hospital approved my idea.”
On April 6, following continued communication with the staff and many hours of work, Daniel delivered 100 hands-free activity packs to the children’s hospital. The clear plastic, wipe-clean box can be attached to an IV pole, bedframe, or wheelchair with a metal carabiner clip and Velcro. “I also installed a shoulder strap using Velcro and compression straps,” Daniel said. “An outpatient could carry it by its handle.”
There are four different types of color-coded packs: one each for younger boys, younger girls, older boys, and older girls. The basic items contained in each pouch are a sketchpad, glow-in-the-dark Shutter Shades (popular louvered sunglasses), a friendship bracelet, an Uno card game, sticker sheets, and a personal letter from a Boy Scout.
Daniel’s fellow Scouts helped him assemble all 100 packs over the course of two weekends, assembly-line fashion. “One person measured the Velcro, another cut it, another attached the compression strap, and so on. Another person did quality assurance to make sure every pack was up to standards and had every item that belonged in it,” he said.
In addition, Daniel unexpectedly obtained 36 Patient Pods. These are soft, wipe-able pouches, prepacked with hand hygiene tools, a notepad and a pen. They have a message clip and display area and are meant for hospital patients to keep their personal items safely within reach, attached to a bedrail, walker or wheelchair.
“I had contacted CEO Pat Mastors of Patient Pod because the clip they use was very conveniently designed to connect to IV poles,” Daniel explained. “I asked her if I could get the clips via donation or discount, but it was patented specifically for Patient Pods. However, she was kind enough to donate 36 Patient Pods instead. We will give those to teenage patients.”
Daniel managed to get most of the supplies donated or discounted. He got in touch with AC Moore for the sticker boxes, Mattel for Uno and Hot Wheels products, JLC for carabiners, and Coleman for compression straps. For items he had to buy, he used funds raised from a campaign he launched on the crowd funding website GoFundMe.
“I didn’t expect to reach my GoFundMe amount at all, but in three days I made more than my target of $2,700,” Daniel said. With nearly $3,000 in donations, he even had extra money to donate to the Tomorrows Children’s Fund, the nonprofit organization supporting pediatric cancer patients at the Hackensack hospital.
Because of hospital regulations, Daniel wasn’t permitted to hand the packs out directly to patients. “I wish I could have seen their faces, but I understand where the hospital was coming from,” he said.
The staff at the medical center welcomed the project.
“It was a pleasure working with Daniel on his Eagle Scout project,” Ellen Goldring, the section chief for Child Life/Creative Arts Therapy, said. “He took such care in ensuring that the project truly met the needs of our patients.”
He knew what children need because he remembers being there, she added.
“Daniel was able to draw from his personal experience in designing these activity packs. He knows what it is like to be a young patient connected to an IV pole in a hospital room for a length of time. They are designed with an understanding of child and adolescent interests. They are so well organized that the child life team can easily grab one for a patient, only needing to know age and gender.”
The packages make life easier for the staff as well, she said. “They do not need to go through multiple toys and supplies to find items to soothe, distract and keep the patient engaged. The packs support a basic component of child life, providing opportunities for patients to play and express themselves.
Daniel and his family — his father, Jacob, his mother, Harriett, and his older sister, Kayla — are members of Temple Sinai in Tenafly. He is a member of the Reform movement’s youth group and participates in its annual Midnight Run, where the kids collected clothing and food and drive it to Manhattan on a school bus to deliver at distribution checkpoints for the homeless. He also volunteers at the soup kitchen in Hackensack on Thanksgiving.
“As a Boy Scout, one of the major things I do is volunteer on a constant basis,” he said.
Another activity dear to Daniel’s heart is the yearly Artworks Express Yourself event sponsored by the Naomi Cohain Foundation for children affected by life-threatening illness, as well as their families. He participated in the first Express Yourself when he was 5. Then, he displayed a painting of a mask he’d made in art therapy. After contributing artwork for a few years, he shifted into performing jazz, ragtime, Beatles, and Billy Joel hits on the piano at Express Yourself.
“It shows my artistic side to people who are going through, or did go through, something similar to what I’ve gone through, or have a child who is no longer with them, along with doctors and others who helped cure me,” Daniel said. “It’s half a thank-you and half to show that just because you’ve been diagnosed with something that might be life-changing, it doesn’t mean you can’t continue to express yourself in many different ways.”
As for the Eagle Scout project, he said, “For me, it has been an incredible journey and a meaningful way to give back and make some sick children a little happier.”