When Ollie was born, he wasn’t expected to live. He was abandoned as a newborn at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma with several heart complications. He spent two months in the pediatric intensive care unit, much of that time hooked up to a heart-lung bypass machine to keep him alive. Finding ways to help children, like Ollie who has spent a lot of time at Mary Bridge Children’s during the past seven years, takes dedication, expertise and a huge dose of creativity.

Keeping a child’s spirits up while they are injured or sick is an important part of the healing process. A recent study conducted by the National Institute of Health reports that emotional well-being significantly promotes recovery.

“The dedication and longevity of our caregivers — physicians, nurses, child life specialists, social workers, physical therapists and so many others — is at the heart of what makes our hospital special,” says Alicia Chapman, executive director of Mary Bridge Children’s Foundation. “They all have a real passion for working with children, as well as a commitment to quality health care and compassionate care. I’ve seen them go above and beyond their job descriptions many times to meet kids where they are and boost their spirits.”

“The use and inclusion of Olaf provides motivation, encouragement, support and comfort to our patients,” says certified child life specialist, Kristen Bishop, Olaf’s handler. “He knows more than 40 commands that we use in our daily interactions with the kids we serve.” 

Get crafty

When Hanna finished treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2016, the 15-year-old from Edgewood had a string of beads that stretched over 35 feet and contained more than 1,000 beads. She was in treatment for more than two years, so she’d had a lot of time to collect them.

Through the Beads of Courage program at Mary Bridge Children’s, children dealing with chronic illnesses receive a special bead for every procedure or milestone in their treatment — from blood draws to chemo to surgical procedures. The beads serve as a reminder of their bravery and courage in every step of their journey. Some children turn the beads into necklaces; others maintain one long string. The program is supported by donors who pay for the cost of the beads. Hospital staff and volunteers help enroll children who are newly diagnosed.

Hanna has spent many hours stringing and re-stringing her necklaces to make sure they’re in the right order, based on her cancer treatment. “It tells my story,” she says. “It helped me look forward to something. Even if a poke hurt, I thought, ‘I’ll get a bead for this.’”

Think and play like a kid

Understanding how a child thinks and what makes them feel comfortable and safe in a hospital setting is crucial. “As we look to the future and expand Mary Bridge’s main campus, we will always keep the importance of play and accessibility at the center of what we do Chapman says, giving the example of a young boy who was extremely nervous about coming into the hospital building. “We had a little red wagon waiting for him at the front door. He’d take a seat and thought it was great fun to be chauffeured in style to his doctor’s office, or the blood lab, wherever he needed to go.” 

As for Ollie, today he’s an active and fun-loving eight-year-old who comes back to Mary Bridge Children’s for treatment periodically. During one stay, he looked out the window to see snow and his entire face lit up. That was all his doctor and nurse needed to see to run outside with a cup and collect some snow for him to make a snowball.

Your donation to Mary Bridge Children’s Foundation helps provide lifesaving services, the latest equipment, clinical research and compassionate care for Northwest families. Please consider donating, so the kids we help can get back to just being kids.