Chris’s mom, Elaine, watches him from his hospital bed at Shriners Hospital for Children - Portland as he plays on the Starlight Nintendo Switch Gaming station. Her son has been through so much, but video games is one thing that continues to bring him happiness.
Chris was born with multiple special needs to an Alaskan Native tribe called Yup’ik. He used a ventilator and tracheal tube to breath and was born with developmental delays. The tribe identified they needed help caring for the special needs of Chris. So, Elaine, a foster mom, was called.
“Walking into the hospital and I saw him, just nine months old, and I almost immediately knew that he was going to be part of our family, that I was going to be his mom,” Elaine said.
Elaine had experience caring for a special needs child. She cared for her daughter Brianna every moment of her life until she passed away.
And Chris’ biological mom knew her child was in the best hands.
“It was before his second birthday, she came for a visit and put a bracelet on my wrist and she talked to me about [their native culture] and giving Chris to me,” Elaine said. “She recognized that I could do better. I could take care of him.”
17 years later, Elaine says Chris makes her laugh every day.
Late last year, Alaska Native Medical Center recommended he go to Portland Shriner’s for an orthopedic surgery to repair his scoliosis. Elaine and Chris made the long trek from Alaska to Oregon, together. There had been many setbacks, including COVID-19, causing rescheduling of surgeries and then he developed infections that left Chris in the hospital for over a month.
A positive thing to come out of it, besides the wonderful care from Shriners, was that Chris got to play on the Starlight Nintendo Switch handheld.
“Chris is a tough kid, but being in the hospital for long periods of time, especially when your support group is in another state, can be difficult. The new Nintendo Switch handheld has brought joy to Chris and others on the unit,” said child life specialist Janelle Mercurio at Shriners Hospitals for Children - Portland.
Thanks to a native Oregonian and generous Starlight donor, Hope Skinner, Shriners is well-equipped with Starlight Virtual Reality, Starlight Gaming and Starlight Hospital Wear that deliver happiness to kids like Chris.
At Starlight, our goal is to make every child’s hospital stay more comfortable. No matter if a child has to be in a hospital for one day or one month, we can still make it a little more fun through Starlight programs.
Chris is home now in Alaska and enjoying his time with his family.