Peyton’s Parking Passes helps families of children with cancer pay for parking at hospital

Melissa Varner
February 15, 2022
A bald teenage cancer patient poses in her hospital bed with two thumbs up. Her head rests on a pillow with a bright green flower-patterned pillowcase, and she has a feeding tube in.

When 16-year-old Peyton Harbert fell and hurt herself ice skating, her parents didn’t think much of it. As an athlete and accomplished gymnast, Peyton was no stranger to sports injuries. So, they weren’t that worried when they took Peyton to the doctor.

“Until it's your kid you don't really think too much about it. Cancer is something that's going to happen to somebody else,” said Peyton’s mom, Paulette “PJ” Harbert. “Then all of a sudden, your world just turns upside down.”

The pain Peyton had been feeling was from a cancerous tumor on her pelvis. In December 2020, she was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that grows in bones or the soft tissue around bones.

In January 2021, she celebrated her 17th birthday in a room on the 10th floor of the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital. The 10th floor is where children with cancer or blood disorders stay in the hospital, often for weeks at a time.

Peyton would have to check in to the hospital whenever she had a fever, or her white blood cell count got too low. One of her longer stays was two weeks, Harbert said. The longest was a month, between November and December 2021.

During that visit, she distinctly remembers when the head of oncology walked into Peyton’s hospital room with tears in her eyes. “Your first thought is ‘Oh no, what did they find?’ said Harbert. “But she said, ‘No, these are good tears.’ When she explained what Jake did, Peyton and I started ugly crying.”

A bald teenage cancer patient poses in front of a blue sign that reads, MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital, Medical University of South Carolina. She has a big smile and holds two thumbs up. She’s wearing a white T-shirt, with a tie-dyed peace symbol and lettering that reads, “Peace out chemo.”
Peyton poses with a big smile and two thumbs up after she finishes chemotherapy.

Jake is Jake Lauten, Harbert’s cousin. Lauten made a generous donation to the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital in Peyton’s honor. He asked that his donation help 10th floor families pay for parking, which can cost up to $6 a day.

“My husband and I would take turns going back and forth to the hospital, especially during that month she was down there,” Harbert said. “Sometimes we'd have two cars there. After a while that does add up.”

“It's one little thing they shouldn't have to worry about,” Lauten said. His mom and sister gave too. Together they raised nearly $4,000 for “Peyton’s Parking Passes.”

Passes are available for all 10th floor patient families, said social worker Tiombe Plair, who helps manage the program. A patient visiting the clinic will be offered one pass. A patient who needs to stay overnight or longer is offered up to three passes when they’re discharged. So far, Plair says the program has supported 200 passes for families on the 10th floor.

Lauten is committed to keeping the program going through fundraisers and monthly donations. Eventually he hopes to make Peyton’s Parking Passes available to all families who have children staying at MUSC.

The Harberts are grateful to Lauten for starting the program, and grateful they haven’t needed it themselves. Just before her 18th birthday in January 2022, Peyton’s scans showed no signs of cancer.

“It sucks to have your kid have cancer,” Harbert said. “But you have no idea how much good there is in the world until something like that does happen.”

A bald teenage cancer patient smiles as she holds up her water glass. She is sitting at a table in a restaurant. There is a large steak on the plate in front of her.
Peyton celebrates at Halls Chophouse after her scans showed no signs of cancer.