By Laura Callender Peninsula Daily News
Laughter may be the best medicine, but what happens when a comedian is seriously ill?
Another comedian steps forward to help him and his family.
Sequim comedian Jay Sierra, known for his stand-up comedy act here and in the Seattle/Tacoma area and for his performances in community theater, is in Harborview Medical Center in Seattle suffering from pancreatitis.
From his room in ICU at the hospital on Tuesday, Sierra’s wife, Shonda, reported that he has been in the hospital for 18 days. He is being kept heavily sedated, causing him to sleep nearly 24 hours a day.
This is the second serious bout Sierra has had with pancreatitis. The last time, Shonda said, was not as bad as this latest attack.
He was hospitalized for nine weeks with that attack.
He is being assisted with his breathing, and his kidneys, in a state of “shock,” are not functioning.
As he recovers, Shonda said, those functions may return to normal.
Shonda has been staying at the hospital at Jay’s bedside.
“I try to go home one day a week,” she said.
With the Hood Canal Bridge being out of service, the travel has become increasingly difficult.
She had been home on Monday, but when she tried to return to the hospital on Tuesday, she found the passenger-only ferry was not operating because of high winds.
It took her 10 hours to get to the hospital.
The couple have four children, often the source of material for Jay’s comedy act.
A native of Los Angeles, Jay moved his family to Shonda’s native Sequim to get his children out of the harsh environment of that city.
He has made a name for himself and developed a following through his work in area community theater, such as his portrayal of the Cowardly Lion in Port Angeles Light Opera’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.”
Two years ago, he traveled back to California to compete in “Last Comic Standing.”
Although he was not chosen as a finalist, the experience helped him on his way to perfecting his stand-up act, and he now regularly performs in clubs in the Puget Sound area.
Fund for family
Another local comedian, Laura O’Neal of Port Angeles, is working to set up a fund to help the Sierra family in making ends meet during this time. The fund, she said, will be established at First Federal this week.
While the family has medical insurance through Shonda’s employer. She is taking leave through the Family Medical Leave Act, which secures her job but is without pay.
With Jay in the hospital and Shonda not working, the family has no income.
“I feel like I need to be here,” Shonda said from the hospital.
Her mother is caring for the couple’s three boys and one girl, and her aunt is helping out as well.
While the situation is difficult, Shonda is keeping a positive outlook for Jay’s recovery.
He is allowed visitors, she said, and she would welcome them. Especially as the drugs are reduced and Jay is awake more, having people visit him to encourage him would be good, she said.
“I would love for people to visit him,” she said. “The more the merrier.”
She also asks for cards to be sent to him, “so he knows people are behind him and cheering him on.”
She said that it is uncertain if Jay’s kidneys will return to normal once he does awaken and recover, but she noted that he is on dialysis now and can live on dialysis if necessary.
“Can I ask people to keep Jay and his family in their prayers?” she asked. “I think they’re starting to work, little by little.”
For information on making a donation to the fund to help the family, contact any First Federal branch.
Send cards to Jay, c/o Harborview Medical Center, 325 Ninth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104. He is in room 202.
Features Editor Laura H.F. Callender can be reached at 360-417-3550 or laura.callender@peninsula dailynews.com.