by Maureen McDonald
The clock strikes 2 p.m. and an array of witches, pirates, princesses and superheroes roll out of their sick beds to collect treats from doctors, nurses, med techs and community volunteers also dressed up as superheroes, mice and more.
Seven-year-old Jada O’Neal greeted staff and friends in a sassy Green Hornet outfit as she paraded through two floors of the Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit on a day of spooktackular fun. Her mother says this was her first day out of her room in more than five weeks as her health hung in balance over a deadly virus that complicated her histiocytosis, an inflammation of the blood.
“The doctors thought she would perk up with a Halloween celebration and sure enough she did,” says Stephanie O’Neal of Clinton Township. Her daughter has battled this disease since she was 13 months old and finds the best care at Children’s Hospital of Michigan where she is treated as a royal guest.
More than 100 children and an equal number of staff participated in the hospital’s largest dress-up party of the year, which is a 30-year tradition. The kids were serenaded by a singer from Sphinx Organization and bassoonists from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
“The resilience of children like Jada teaches us all so much,” says Larry Gold, CEO at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. “We’re here to help children with severe needs to live their best quality of life. What is more normal than trick or treating? We get dressed up. They get dressed up.”
Twice this season representatives from Spirit Halloween brought racks of new costumes from infant to adult sizes so the children can choose their fantasy character. An Elsa princess dress was a big hit for a little girl struggling with leukemia and a babe in arms became Snow White with the help of staff who dressed her.
Members of the hospital staff … from hematology to pediatric education … open their doors and hand out treats. No candy because of allergies. But they receive an array of light sticks, Legos, stuffed toys and trinkets and an encouraging smile from everyone they meet. The parade often included a bank of machines on wheels that helped the children breathe or monitored their heart function.
Many were in wheel chairs pushed by caring parents who enjoyed a day of happiness. Gold says many of the patients were familiar to staff because the children have chronic illnesses that require regular intervention. He notes Children’s Hospital was ranked among America’s best Children’s Hospitals by U.S. News & World Reports this year because quality of care goes into each interaction all year round.
Brenda Begley comes from Highland Township with her dog to give children along the parade a happy pooch to pet. Representatives from Charlotte’s Wings give brand new books. Sue Ellen Kosmas distributes colorful pillowcases through the organization, Case for Smiles. Joe Burns of Sterling Heights distributes fancy medals won by those who ran the half and full Free Press Marathons repackaged with rainbow ribbons, as part of Medals 4 Mettle.
Gold thanks the members of the Children’s Hospital staff who go the distance to amuse and involve children in a happy event. One team even dressed like the cast of Scooby Doo.
“There are only a handful of children’s hospitals like ours across the country that provide a full range of advanced services and specialties designed especially for kids,” he says. “We have a unique role to play in caring for the health and well being of children and their families.”
Children’s Hospital of Michigan, a part of the Detroit Medical Center, offers more than 40 pediatric medical and surgical specialties and services. The hospital is a national leader in cancer, cardiology and heart surgery, gastroenterology and gastroenterology surgery, neurology and neurosurgery, nephrology, orthopedics, pulmonology and urology. It is ranked one of America’s best hospitals for children and sees more children than any hospital in the state.
For one parent, Children’s is refuge, a place where her little girl could get the kind of care that would sustain her life through a long bout in ICU.
“Jada was able to get off the ventilator and join the other children. She is a fabulous girl. She never complains,” O’Neal says. Now if the magic of Halloween could help her thrive.