Starlight Programs Help Kids Cope During Virus Season

Being hospitalized for the flu, RSV, or COVID can be a daunting experience, especially for a child. During virus season when flu and COVID cases rapidly rise, infection control restrictions limit the number of visitors permitted in the hospital. The families and friends of patients cannot visit as frequently, increasing feelings of loneliness for the patient.  

Starlight Ambassador Grace knows exactly what it’s like to be in the hospital during virus season because, at the height of the pandemic in 2020, she was admitted for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  

In addition to enduring the pokes and pain from her lumbar punctures and chemotherapy, Grace faced unique challenges posed by COVID, but Starlight programs made the hospital an easier place for her to be.  

For Grace and her family, these restrictions meant that only her mother could stay by her side in the hospital room and her father, Juan, could not be with them during her first hospitalization. As a result, he slept in the family car in the parking lot for two days and was only able to receive updates through phone calls. At one point, Grace was unable to see Juan for six days, which took a heavy toll on both her and her parents.  

To help reduce Grace’s pain, stress, and anxiety, a DHR Child Life Specialist provided Grace with a Starlight Toy Delivery, filled with toys and games, and even her favorite toy, a Barbie Doll!   

Through these Starlight Toy Deliveries, Grace was able to find an outlet for her emotions, even when she couldn’t leave her hospital room. Playing with toys can help kids learn about and adapt to the hospital setting and can also provide a high therapeutic value, like they did for Grace. A fun toy or relaxing craft can give a child a sense of relief from feelings of loneliness through familiar and fun activities.   

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Infection control rules also limit the number of children allowed in hospital playrooms. Due to this limitation, patients are unable to socialize and play with other kids, which can lead to increased feelings of isolation. Some patients may even be confined to their hospital rooms for prolonged periods of time, which could lead to heightened feelings of anxiety. 

For Grace, Starlight Gaming was an easy way to alleviate those feelings of isolation. The Gaming Stations and Nintendo Switch Handhelds are portable, so she was able to play anywhere in the hospital, including at her own bedside. The highly interactive gaming experiences kept her engaged through mastery and achievement, which ultimately boosted her mood and helped combat any feelings of loneliness.   

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Grace’s Starlight Hospital Gowns also helped ease the anxiety she was feeling by reminding her of her life outside of the hospital. The kid-friendly designs and soft material feel like comfortable pajamas, making them more familiar and the many character-themed gowns were conversation starters with hospital staff, which helped her create bonds with her Child Life Specialists and others on her medical team.   

Many Starlight Hospital Gowns include QR codes that can be scanned for interactive games related to the gown design, which can enhance critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

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They all helped her walk out of the hospital a little stronger.

- Rachel, Grace's mom

In 2022, the “tripledemic” of the flu, RSV, and COVID overwhelmed understaffed hospitals, many of which were operating at or above capacity. As flu season approaches again this year, hospitals need your help to prepare for and deliver moments of joy to sick kids like Grace. 

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