December 3, 2014 by and
Photography by Tim and Pam Pepper

Doug Pepper was about to have a liver transplant, but all he wanted were nachos and a Dr. Pepper.

His mom, Pam Pepper, recalls with a laugh how the then 13-year-old Doug responded to the news that he would need a liver transplant due to a condition known as autoimmune hepatitis, which causes inflammation of the liver. Following the request for some of his favorite foods, Doug simply said, “I’m ready.”

“Maybe it’s just part of being a kid—he never once complained,” Pam says.  During the nearly seven weeks that the Indianola, Iowa, native was a ward of University of Nebraska Medical Center’s
Child Life Program, Doug endured countless blood tests, a nearly eight-hour-long transplant, and a bacterial infection that nearly took his life. Nonetheless, his mom says, he always kept an upbeat attitude. The now 15-year-old then decided to keep the positive vibes going and “pay it forward” through his Eagle Scout project, a toy drive for UNMC’s Child Life Program.

One of the issues that plagued Doug the most during his stay at UNMC wasn’t pain or depression, but boredom. The Child Life Program at UNMC has puzzles, games, and crafts to keep kids active and upbeat during their long stays, as well as events such as movie or bingo nights. And there’s Doug’s personal favorite, Monster Truck Night, where the Child Life staff brought in Monster Truck drivers and allowed kids to drive around miniature, remote control versions of the gigantic vehicles.

“The Child Life Program is really good there,” Doug says. “When you’re in the hospital it gets really boring really quickly, so it was just nice to get up and do something and have fun while
you were there.”

As a Boy Scout, community service has played a large role in Doug’s life for quite some time. Therefore, when Doug was looking for a way to say thank you to the Child Life Program, he knew that he wanted to do something big, and to help add to the number of resources the Child Life Program has. Thus, his Eagle Scout project was born.

Doug got to work almost immediately after leaving UNMC, and spent the next year-and-a-half managing his project, putting friends and family to work organizing, promoting, and running toy drives at Walmart stores in both Indianola and Omaha. Through his toy drives, Doug has collected over 2,600 toys, games, and supplies for the Child Life Program, and received over $1,000 in donations, smashing his expectations. “I thought the amount of donations was going to be really low. I thought not many people were going to donate, that they were just going to do their normal day shopping, but it turned out really well,” he says.

Even though Doug’s Eagle Scout Project is over, his gratitude towards the Child Life program hasn’t worn off. Doug and Pam still try to raise awareness about autoimmune hepatitis and the dedicated Child Life staff through public speaking.

“I think it’s really taught him about the power of giving back, and that anybody and everybody can do it,” his mom says.

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