Last Election Day, a staffer at Starlight Children’s Foundation MidAtlantic visited a local children’s hospital and met Mason. A frequent flier, Mason had just celebrated his ninth birthday and was fighting his forty-fourth case of pneumonia. Spying the staffer’s I Voted! Sticker, Mason exclaimed, “It’s Election
Day!” That’s when she asked him who he would vote for if he were old enough.”Myself!” He said. “And when you are elected,” Erin asked, “what will you do first?” He responded immediately: “I will find medicine to cure all childhood diseases so kids won’t spend half of their lives in the hospital and have to have a bunch of tubes in them that they don’t want! Then, we could all just be kids!”
Mason will get a lot of votes one day.
Mason’s story is all too familiar to nearly one million children in the six-state MidAtlantic region: Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. According to the CDC, in 2008, approximately one in seven children younger than 18 years (10.2 million) in the United States had a special healthcare need.
Since 1999, Starlight MidAtlantic has been improving the quality of life for children and teens suffering from serious, life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, cystic fibrosis, heart disease, kidney disease, and catastrophic burns.While medical experts provide life-saving treatments, Starlight provides some relief from worry and isolation with the healing power of play.
Starlight helps create a better hospital experience for kids with a variety of programs such as hospital parties and Radio Flyer wagons to energize those many rides through the halls. Making the hospital feel more like home, a Starlight Fun Center with flat screen TV, DVD player, and Nintendo Wii rolls up bedside, providing distraction from pain.Starlight Site playrooms and treatment rooms make hospitals less scary, more comfortable, and, whenever possible, fun – for kids and their families. Starlight sometimes organizes celebrity visits for kids during social hours such as pet therapy or arts and crafts.
Judith Christian, executive director of Starlight MidAtlantic says, “Starlight is dedicated to making life a little easier, a little happier, and less stressful for pediatric patients and their families throughout the region. In Greater Richmond, we are privileged to provide fun and healthy distractions at Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, Chippenham Hospital-HCA Virginia, and for families of Noah’s Children.
“With the help of a newly forming young professionals group led by volunteers from Wyndham VA Crossings Hotel and Conference Center, Starlight MidAtlantic will redecorate a pediatric treatment room at Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond this August,” Christian added.
Often, a requirement to being discharged is an increased appetite, and sometimes all it takes to get kids eating better is a fun activity. Boredom Busters from Starlight MidAtlantic is just the ticket – providing puzzle and activity books, coloring books and crayons, family DVDs, and card games to help families pass the long hours.
Children who experience Starlight programming benefit from decreased anxiety, reduced need for pain medication, increased willingness to return for further treatment, and alleviation of stress and loneliness, giving them more time to just be kids.
“It takes potent medications and complex surgeries, but it also takes an environment that promotes healing, something that has often been ignored… these very special items make the hospital stay more bearable for these children,” said David B. Nelson, MD, pediatrician in chief with Georgetown University Hospital.