published Friday, June 27th, 2014

Cook: It's cool, Coty Allen, it's cool

Primary care provider Kelly Rodney Arnold presents a Patient of the Year Award to Cooper Allen, the brother of Coty Allen who had a positive attitude despite having a chronic illness and daily pain that led his unexpected death after multiple complications arose. The ceremony was held at the UT Family Practice Center in downtown Chattanooga.
Primary care provider Kelly Rodney Arnold presents a Patient of the Year Award to Cooper Allen, the brother of Coty Allen who had a positive attitude despite having a chronic illness and daily pain that led his unexpected death after multiple complications arose. The ceremony was held at the UT Family Practice Center in downtown Chattanooga.
Photo by Dan Henry.

Coty Allen wasn't at the ceremony on Thursday, when the doctors and nurses cheered for him, saying to anyone who would listen: We've never had a patient like him.

"I get teary talking about it," said Dr. Kelly Arnold.

She first met him in the winter of 2013; Coty had come to her office at Erlanger's UT Family Practice Center. He was 18, younger than Bieber, younger than a good Scotch.

He smiled. Those blue eyes. A head of wild, carefree curls. He reminded Dr. Arnold of someone.

"Elijah Wood," she later said.

He'd been in pain his whole life, diagnosed at 2 with rickets, then Dent's, a rare genetic disease that left him in a World Cup of pain.

His legs were cowboy-ed out, bowed from years of chronic bone disease.

His arteries and veins had aged, almost like a great-grandfather's. His heart was diseased.

His skin had grown rough.

"Scaly," Arnold said.

His kidneys were in the bottom of the 9th, having already rejected one transplant and now in need of every-other-day trips to dialysis. He had tried to go to East Ridge High, but was too weak for class. The dialysis left him exhausted and prone to headaches.

He was taking 10 medications a day, seeing eight doctors and already had made more trips to the hospital than some ambulances.

"Hundreds," said his aunt, Andrea Calkins. "Prom? He was in the hospital. Christmas? The hospital."

But you'd never know it.

For it wasn't his broken body that defined Coty.

"It's his aura," said his mom, Kari.

That whole bedside manner thing? It's not just a one-way relationship. Patients affect doctors, too, maybe more so. Until he stopped coming to the UT Family Practice Center, Coty kept administering some unforgettable medicine of his own -- optimism, kindness, hope -- to everyone around.

"He was the glue," Arnold said. "Despite being the biologically weakest person there, he held everybody together."

He did what we all hope to do, which is to face the monsters of life with grace and poise. His compounded suffering was matched only by his Grace Kelly grace. In the middle of it all, he somehow gave thanks.

"It's cool," he liked to say.

Coty, who loved to hip-hop dance, somehow danced his way through incredible pain. The poets of old would call him a hero. Arnold had other plans. Thursday, she held up a plaque.

"The Coty Allen Patient of the Year Award," she said to a roomful of UT Family Practice physicians and nurses.

Beginning this year, the staff will award one patient an appreciation award named after Coty. One of the plaques will hang in the lobby waiting room; the other was given to Coty's family.

They were all there for the ceremony. His dad, his grandparents, aunt, little brother Cooper, and his mom, who wanted all of Erlanger to know how very thankful she was.

"From the bottom of my heart," she said.

But Coty? He wasn't there.

That's because 33 days ago -- on Memorial Day weekend -- he collapsed at home, and despite the EMTs and a rush to the hospital -- hold on Coty, just hold on -- he just couldn't.

Coty Allen, 19, died.

"Our hero," his obituary read.

"I have adored Coty from the first day I held him in my arms," wrote his Aunt Lisa in the funeral home condolences.

"I have not been able to write or say 'Coty was,'" wrote his other aunt, Shannon. "I can't really speak of him in the past tense."

So don't.

Coty's body wasn't there Thursday, but something else was. After all, it wasn't his body that captivated everyone anyway. It was something else, something that never fades away.

"His heart," Arnold said.

And it's forever cool.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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