Thanks to community support, in addition to providing the best treatments possible for injuries and illnesses, specialists at the Alberta Children’s Hospital work hard to care for kids’ spirits as well. From art and music therapy to pet visitation, fishtanks and playrooms, exceptional programs and enhancements make the Alberta Children’s Hospital a truly special and caring place for kids. They are all part of the hospital’s Family Centred Care philosophy aimed at creating happy, healthy memories for kids, their siblings and parents while relieving the fear and anxiety often associated with being in the hospital.
Making Music, Making Friends
Evelyn Shanahan spends a lot of time at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. Born with serious heart defects, no major vessel leading to her liver and an incredibly rare metabolic condition, she’s a regular at many different clinics and departments.
A shining light in the midst of an often challenging journey for Evelyn has been the time she’s spent with music therapist, Sarah. Generously supported by the community, the music therapy program promotes healing for children and their families – in some cases, helping kids work on their motor, sensory or communication skills, in others, providing a creative outlet, social interaction or just a small distraction in difficult moments, like during needles.
“On one occasion, Evelyn needed lab work done and I came in to offer distraction during the poke,” says Sarah. “On the following visit, using sign language, she said to her mom ‘poke’ when she saw me and mom confirmed that I had been there during the previous poke. She then signed ‘friend’ to mom and mom confirmed that yes, I was her friend.”
Evelyn’s mom, Marie-Claire, says there have been many times Evelyn has been in isolation, unable to leave her hospital room so as not to compromise her immunity. Those lonely times are made much better thanks to visits from her friend, Sarah.
“Sarah coming in is the absolute highlight of her day,” says Marie-Claire. “Music therapy is a big part of the reason why Evelyn thinks of the hospital as a place she likes and wants to be.”
Evelyn uses a combination of sign language and speech to communicate so Sarah incorporates sign language into their songs to promote language development.
“Music therapists are in a very unique position in that we get to form relationships with patients over longer periods of time and offer a positive experience in a hospital setting,” says Sarah. “I have seen Evelyn for a few years now and she knows that when I come our time will be filled with music and singing and laughter.
“Children and families come here often in a time of crisis and uncertainty,” she adds. “Music therapy offers them an opportunity to connect with each other in a more relaxed setting. It also offers families a reprieve from the ongoing medical treatments – a time for their children to play and not have to think about their illness or injury.”
Sibling Support through Art
Life can be confusing at times for the brothers and sisters of a child with serious illness. Their parents may be away at the hospital for extended periods. Often family schedules may revolve around medications and clinic appointments. And it is difficult for kids to find peers who can relate to the emotions they feel on a daily basis – the joy and sadness that comes with having a sibling with chronic health issues.
With your generous donations, these children now have a safe place to express their feelings and build friendships with others who live in similar circumstances. Every month, the siblings of children with limited life expectancy gather in the Therapeutic Arts room at Rotary Flames House to create a project together, while their moms and dads are down the hall for a parent support meeting called Hope Group. The evening, facilitated by a Child Life Therapist, gives children aged seven and older the opportunity to share their experiences through art and play.
Teresa Wong says that the Art Therapy Hope Group for Siblings is one of the most anticipated events on their family calendar each month. Their 8-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, has a degenerative disease requiring around-the-clock care. Even though their other daughter, Victoria, is a year younger, she has assumed the “big sister” role in the family.
“While we find help and comfort at the Hope Group, the programming for Victoria is really what gets us there each month,” says Teresa. “It is the only program in the city available for kids who are walking this road with their sibling.”
In fact, Teresa says it was through the sibling group activities that Victoria was able to talk about her fears of not being around if and when Elizabeth passed away. “We had no idea she was so scared about that,” says Teresa. “Victoria is such a deep thinker. The art gives her thoughts an outlet.”
Teresa is quick to point out that she wishes her family did not have to take part in such a program, but knowing that the community is here to support it means the world. “It makes such a difference for Victoria and our entire family. I could never say thanks enough!”