Tyrone Cooper, UCAN employee
Tyrone Cooper, former UCAN client and current UCAN employee
Tyrone first came to UCAN in 1987 at the age of 14. One of a family of ten, Tyrone never knew his father. As a small child, Tyrone lived with his family in a Chicago Housing Authority development on 63rd Street. He became a ward of the state of Illinois at the age of five.
A couple of years after coming to UCAN, Tyrone was sent to Illinois Masonic Hospital after suffering from regular headaches and a seizure. He was eventually diagnosed with a brain cyst, which required the implantation of a VP shunt into his brain. Three weeks later, he was back at the hospital for a second surgery due to a clog in the shunt. This was just the beginning of the approximately 27 brain operations Tyrone would undergo over the next three years.
By 1992, Tyrone had transitioned from UCAN’s Therapeutic Youth Home into Independent Living. Due to Tyrone’s medical condition, however, this situation was no longer tenable; Tyrone needed 24 hour nursing care. The Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS) wanted to move Tyrone out of UCAN into another facility where medical care was already set up, but UCAN CEO Tom Vanden Berk was determined to keep Tyrone in an environment he already knew. Tyrone therefore moved back into UCAN’s Therapeutic Youth Home, where he was provided with a private apartment and around the clock healthcare. Despite Tyrone’s medical condition, he was able to complete high school; he delayed one surgery in order to walk across the stage to receive his diploma from St. Greg’s in 1992.
“From the minute Tyrone stepped through UCAN’s doors, he became part of our family,” said Tom. “With all that he was going through, I didn’t want him to have to adjust to new surroundings and new caregivers as well.”
Things became worse before they improved, unfortunately. The cyst had affected Tyrone’s skull, necessitating the removal of part of his skull. For the following year, Tyrone wore a special helmet to protect the open hole in his head (later covered by a metal plate). During this time, Tyrone also fell into a three week coma. When he awoke, he was unable to walk. Through the help of specialized care at both UCAN and the Schwab Rehabilitation Center, Tyrone gradually learned to walk again. He also attended Truman College, where he graduated from in 1996 with a degree in child psychology.
Thinking back upon his time in UCAN’s Therapeutic Youth Home, Tyrone said that UCAN “provides you with the best care. So many people would think of [a state ward] as a number – at UCAN, I wasn’t treated as a ward, but as family.”
After graduation from college, Tyrone applied for a position at UCAN. In his twelve years with the organization, Tyrone has worked in Facilities Management, the Therapeutic Youth Home, and the Professional Foster Parenting program. Tyrone’s last surgery was in 1997, and he remains healthy today. He has two daughters, Mariah (8) and Daci (6). “I wanted to work at UCAN because they’d done so much for me, and I wanted to give back,” said Tyrone. Tom says, “I remain extremely proud of Tyrone’s successes and the value which he adds to the organization today.”