BY NATASHA WILLIAMS
In 2006, following the death of her son, Tyler, from infant leukemia, Kimberly Forsythe-Ferris and her husband Mark started the Tyler Foundation. This organisation combines unique programs with enthusiasm and support from its staff and the community to do what it can to alleviate the stresses and challenges of being a child or family of a child with cancer in Japan. The Tyler Foundation works in hospital wards to fill a need unmet until now, introducing support systems and programs both inspired from the West and created specifically to address the unique needs associated with being hospitalised for cancer in Japan.
Kim says, “From an international perspective, what the Tyler Foundation does is quite a normal part of patient treatment and support. In Japan, we are far from normal—but the Tyler Foundation has a vision to redefine normal to embrace complete patient support from the moment of diagnosis to well after a child has been discharged from hospital.” To that end, the ultimate goal of the Foundation is to help children transition back to normal life following treatment and recovery.
The Foundation is able to do so through a variety of programs, including a counselling and support program in Tokyo and Osaka, the Shine On! House, which provides a variety of classes for patients, sibling care, and a relaxation space and emergency accommodation for families of children receiving treatment. They also run a unique therapy dog program, the first full-time, animal-assisted therapy program in a Japanese children’s hospital. Recently launched in Shizuoka, the program provides the hospital with a fully trained assistance dog from the US, Bailey, as well as a trained nurse-handler, Yuko. Together, the pair spend up to 30 minutes at a time with their patients, depending on the purpose of the visit, and work to lift spirits and move towards specific, therapy-oriented goals.
As a relatively new organisation, the Tyler Foundation is constantly growing and widening its scope. Kim says: “It was inevitable that in the beginning the establishment and success of the foundation was, for me, very closely tied with the need to make sense of losing Tyler. That has now transformed from a personal need to an organisation-wide passion to spread our programs and touch more and more children thoughout Japan. By June, we will have programs in seven different hospitals throughout Japan—and I am aiming for double that by the end of the year. This is amazing!”
Of course, a foundation such as this one requires a lot of support, and the Tyler Foundation holds a variety of events to that end each year. An exciting upcoming event is the Shine On! Concert featuring Scott MacIntyre at Billboard Live Tokyo on April 11. For American Idol fans, Scott’s name will be familiar, as the singer and musician was a finalist in the eigth season of the popular show. A lifelong lover of music, Scott says: “My interest in music began before I can remember. When I was a toddler, my parents used to put me to bed with cassette tapes of Disney music or church music. Instead of falling asleep, I’d sneak out to the family’s old upright piano and start to play by ear the songs I heard.” That was just the first step in an amazing musical journey, which took Scott to Toronto’s Conservatory of music, Arizona State University’s Barrett Honors College and Herberger College of Fine Arts, and England’s Royal Holloway, University of London, and the Royal College of Music, where he earned a master’s degree.
Like the children the Tyler Foundation helps, Scott, who has been visually impaired since birth, faced many challenges during his own childhood, including a kidney transplant. Today, his goals reach beyond his music career and into spreading a positive message. He counts keynote speaking among his hobbies and says: “I’ve always wanted to do more than write and sing good music…I want to inspire people to reach for their dreams no matter what challenges or obstacles block the way.” Just 24 and already the recipient of the Marshall and Fulbright scholarships, MacIntyre, who put out his first album at the age of eleven, is certainly an inspiration to many children, including those facing medical challenges, making him the perfect act for this very special Shine On! Concert.
For anyone who is interested in helping the Tyler Foundation on an ongoing basis, Kim says that there are plenty of ways to get involved all across Japan: “We have so many small and large events—there is some way for everyone to get involved in planning. Beyond that we need people to help out at our Shine On! House in Setagaya-ku by decorating, cleaning, helping with daily events, and even teaching small, creative classes as part of our Shine On! School program aimed at three to six year olds. We can also use volunteers for our big Shine On! festivals for patients and families at the hospital every three months, and our weekly English club and book club in the hospital. Japanese ability is a plus, but not absolutely necessary for some volunteer work.” For those outside of Tokyo, “We have programs in Osaka, Ibaraki, and Shizuoka right now—and will be starting in Sapporo and Ookayama soon—so give us a call!”