Preston and the Courageous Lion*

The Knights of Columbus

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By Julie Rattey

"Another cut and color today, Peggy?”

Jasey smiled as one of her regular customers entered her salon, Shear Designs by Jasey, in Lebanon, Virginia. Christmas music played softly in the background. Peggy shrugged off her coat and acknowledged that she would, indeed, have the usual.


“December 16th already!” she said, settling back in the chair and preparing to forget the busyness of the season for a short while. “Got any shopping done? What does Preston want for Christmas?”

Jasey smiled as images of her only child, 6-year-old Preston, rose to her mind: Preston cracking jokes; Preston beaming as his dad, Matthew, showed him how to swing a baseball bat; Preston’s small brow furrowed in concentration as he tried to beat his mom and dad at video games.

“He wants a Nintendo Wii and a Nintendo DS,” replied Jasey. “We’ve already bought the Wii.” As she set about working on Peggy’s hair, she smiled again as she thought how excited Preston would be on Christmas morning. She and Peggy continued their conversation until the phone rang. It was the nurse at Preston’s elementary school. Preston was jaundiced, she said; Jasey should take him to the doctor.

Jaundiced? Preston had been fine that morning. What could be wrong? Jasey’s heart began to pound. Suddenly, the cheery holiday music seemed unnerving.

“Everything all right?” asked Peggy.

Jasey shook her head as she hung up the phone. “I wish it were.”


Preston perked up. Lisa Black was his teacher at the hospital. Since Preston’s condition did not permit him to join the other children in the hospital classroom, Miss Lisa visited him every day to share stories and teach him new things. One time in January they’d learned all about snow. Miss Lisa had read him Clifford’s Snow Day and given him a cool, snow-like shaving cream and glue mixture to paint with. He had felt shy at first, but thinking about snow made him remember the time he had gone sledding with his grandfather. Miss Lisa had been excited to hear about that. Now Preston looked forward to Miss Lisa’s visits, and to her kind smile and cheerful voice. If Miss Lisa had brought this lion for him, he must be pretty special. Preston reached out and stroked the lion’s tawny mane.

Jasey smiled and held up a colorful book. “This is the lion’s story. Duffy has a fall and has to go to the hospital to get better. Why don’t we read it together?”

Preston cuddled up to his mother and held Duffy against him as he listened to how the lion fell out of a tree and spent time at the hospital undergoing physical therapy to get better. Preston knew why Duffy felt hurt and scared. It had been scary going into his liver operation and waking up with staples in his belly. Preston hugged the lion closer and looked into its soft brown face. Duffy’s ears bent slightly forward as if to say, “I’m here. I’m listening.” Preston knew he had found a friend.


Duffy never left Preston’s side after that. He slept close to him every night and helped Preston be brave throughout every treatment. Duffy was particularly helpful one day in March when Preston got some difficult news: He would have to leave the hospital for another one far away.

“But why? Why do we have to leave?” he asked his parents.

Jasey gently pressed her son’s hand in hers. “I know this is scary for you, Sweetheart,” she said. “But the doctors believe this bone marrow transplant will make you better for good. And there is a very smart doctor in Cincinnati who will take care of you.”

“When can we go home?” Preston asked.

Jasey sighed. “Probably not for another four or five months.”

Preston’s face fell. If he wanted to go anywhere, it was home, to his own bed and his familiar things. To the Christmas tree and to his presents, still wrapped and waiting for him.

Jasey picked up Duffy and nestled him in Preston’s arms. “Duffy will be with you,” she said. “We’ll ride a special little jet to Cincinnati. It will be his very first flight. You can help him be brave for the trip, just like he’s helped you be brave during your treatment.”

Preston was quiet for a moment. Everyone said that Preston was being a brave boy. He rarely cried. But sometimes Preston felt sad and scared. Duffy seemed to understand what Preston was going through. And if Duffy could get through his stay at the hospital, Preston could, too. He remembered the last line of Duffy’s book, where Duffy said, “I’ll always be right by your side.” Knowing he had Duffy made Preston feel a little stronger.

I’ll be brave like you, Duffy, Preston promised his friend silently. We’ll get better together.  CD

*Based on the story of the Snead family. Information was provided by Jasey Snead with the assistance of Lisa Black, a hospital teacher at the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital.


At the time this story was written, Preston and his family were preparing to leave for Cincinnati for the bone marrow transplant. News concerning his recovery will be printed in an upcoming issue.

The Knights of Columbus, a fraternal benefit society founded by Father Michael J. McGivney in 1882 to render financial aid to members and their families, is a corporate sponsor for the Courage Lion program. Duffy was developed in a joint effort with the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center’s Child Life Department to help children as they experience illness, trauma, abuse, and other crises. To learn more, and to support the Courage Lion program, visit or call President John Ramming at 410-584-7273. To learn more about the Knights of Columbus, visit or call 203-752-4000.

Managing Editor Julie Rattey

Julie Rattey is a Boston-based writer and editor. She is the author of If I Grew Up in Nazareth, available from