During prom season earlier this year, the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital staff threw a last-minute prom for a teen patient who’d miss that iconic high school event because of her hospitalization.
Around Halloween, the staff led the tiny patients down the halls with trick-or-treat bags.
And during this Christmas season, Santa will visit the children, most of them worried St. Nick won’t be able to find them at the hospital. The staff, said Coordinator of Child Life Services Rana Post, cushions stays for the often critically ill children and worried parents spending the holidays in the hospital.
“We really don’t want them to think that they won’t get their presents because they’re here,” Post said of the 10 to 15 children there Friday. “We try to make their stay here as normal as possible, especially over the holidays. We try to get them home, but that’s not always possible.”
The hospital serves a 32-county area and reaches as many as 100,000 children. The hospital’s Care Mobile does immunizations and screenings.
But when children and families are admitted for one of the 32 beds in the ward — six of them reserved for the pediatric intensive care unit — the hospital focuses on making them as comfortable as possible, said Executive Director Tim Siebert.
“Our job is to lift their spirits and to meet them where they are,” Siebert said. “A sense of normalcy helps with the healing process.”
Chris and Becky Davis of Ozark were in the ninth day of their most recent hospital stay with their year-old son Elijah, who suffers from a congenital brain malformation that has caused epilepsy, as well as developmental and feeding issues.
“We’re just so thankful,” Becky Davis said. “This was such a huge blessing.”
Becky Davis said she was especially thankful for one of the comforts the hospital provides — meal trays for the families of patients. Not being home to cook could mean running out to buy expensive meals, “and that can really add up.”
Chris Davis said the facilities and the comforts have helped them cope. The playroom down the hall, for example, makes it easier for them to entertain Elijah’s big sister Adrienne, who’s 3-and-a-half.
“It’s wonderful to be able to have Adrienne here,” Chris Davis said. “Being separated from family is one of the worst parts of being in the hospital.”
The hospital also schedules regular visits from wise-cracking doctor clowns with painted faces and white lab coats. They have a group of therapy dogs that interact with the children.
The dogs, Post said, are especially positive. She’s seen children who’d been fighting for consciousness rise up in their beds to pet the dogs.
“Especially if they have a dog at home,” Post said. “It’s very theraputic.”
But these efforts take on another level of urgency around the Christmas holiday season, she said.
For example, the staff is preparing a Christmas party for Wednesday featuring Santa. They’ve been wrapping presents and attaching the names so Santa can call each of the children up to him by name.
For those who can’t leave their rooms, Santa will pull a wagon of toys into each room.
Juanita Olsen was set to receive the ultimate present, her 6-month-old daughter Rebekah’s release.
Rebekah had spiked a temperature so her doctor suggested Olsen bring her in. The results from a spinal tap were abnormal, so her doctor admitted her. By Friday, the baby had rallied to fight off what had just been a virus. The doctor said Rebekah looked awesome.
A sense of relief washed over Olsen’s face as she smiled. It’s difficult enough having a child there, but being a nurse added to her frustration. She continually fought her urges to be a nurse while needing to be a mommy taking care of her baby.
“Everyone here has been really great,” Olsen said. “They’ve been taking care of me and taking care of her.”