They’re quite a pair.
Little Ava in her pretty blue and white dress, ribbons in her hair, and Todd Collier the gruff-but-lovable construction superintendent straight out of central casting.
Ava, 4, tugs at Collier’s hand, leading him toward the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Outpatient Care Center. She wants to visit Miss Natalie, her former infusion nurse. Collier is hooked, shuffling along with a crooked smile.
The hospital’s Research and Education Building, which Collier was in charge of constructing, looms behind them. Ava is here representing patients at the ribbon cutting for the grand opening.
Ava’s friendship with Collier goes back more than two years. She had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Natalie Hartz, R.N., works in the Infusion Center, which overlooks the construction site. She called Collier to ask if his Skanska construction crew would participate in a dance party for Ava’s “Transition to Maintenance Therapy Day.”
The crew has had an audience in the Infusion Center for the entire build. Kids sit for hours during their treatments, so the crew decided to dress up, hold signs and dance for their entertainment. “Dance Party Fridays” have been a big deal for kids like Ava.
Not only did Collier and his team comply with a special dance party, but he walked over to Infusion to meet Ava in person. He brought her a T-shirt. It was the beginning of a very special friendship.
Ava’s mom recalls that every time they went for infusion, Ava would ask, “Will we see Todd-the-builder?” The answer was always yes. “Those two are fast friends,” she adds. One little phone call and Todd-the-builder would cross that street lickety split, special gift in tow.
Collier was even there this past May when Ava got to finally “ring the bell,” a ritual that commemorates the end of cancer chemotherapy treatment. He showed up like a proud grandpa and brought Ava a special gift: her own bell to take home and ring every time she thinks about Todd and the hospital.
“I hear she rings it a lot,” Collier says, laughing. He is very proud to be a part of Ava’s life and to have helped complete the Research and Education Building. “When you see what’s going on already in this organization, and you know that now with this new research facility, they will be able to do even more for kids like Ava. Who doesn’t want to be part of that?”
The building may be complete, but Collier’s support is not. Ava returns next month for a regular checkup and Collier already has the date on his calendar and a gift wrapped.
A building superintendent’s job is never really done.