teddy bear patient

For Valentine’s Day, delight heals everyone

While most think Valentine’s Day is about chocolate, roses and romance, the biggest givers of heart-shaped tokens by far, are children. It’s clear from pictures made of crayon and crepe paper for mom and dad, and (usually) mass-produced cards for everyone in class, kids adore the holiday. They delight in telling those around them that they matter and are loved, as well as hearing that back from friends, family and probably even the occasional nemesis.

Little is known for certain about St. Valentine but he has long been associated with the care and healing of children. One story about him that dates back nearly 800 years tells of how he healed a blind girl who was the daughter of his jailer. On the day of his execution, he left her a note signed, “Your Valentine.” The persistence of the story makes it clear that people loved the image of a person who, on his last day, continued to focus on the protection and healing of children—and that such caring brings out the best in us.

Kids have to be kids, even in the hospital. Doctors, parents, friends and even other patients who act on this impulse, to let kids be kids, create amazing moments. We hope you’ll be inspired by these examples, and if you have a favorite personal story of this, please share it here. Perhaps we can inspire each other, all in the name of St. Valentine.

Songs for the world’s bravest kids

When Alastair and Jane found out their daughter Clio had Leukemia, it was a huge new reality for their family. Jane turned to her craft of writing to make sense and share what followed. And Alastair, a singer/songwriter, brought his guitar to Clio’s hospital room. What began as a comfort became a collaboration to make up songs about the journey of healing.

The Grammy-nominated album that followed is a joy for kids with (and without) cancer. And singing their way through this new reality changed how the world looked to Jane and Alastair. Families healing from Sandy Hook or the Boston Marathon bombing were part of their new reality, and they wrote and sang on their behalf. Alastair has raised more than $28,000 to distribute free copies of his songs for families in every children’s cancer center in the U.S.

(Disclosure: I know this family from church. A daughter or two of mine may have even sung backup on the album. I’m biased in the best way. Clio’s back at church and fine, and Alastair played his guitar at service last week. I hope you enjoy the music and get biased too.)

Batman’s heart transplant

Payson Vahovick is six years old, and he’s about to get a heart transplant at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. So is his hero doll, Batman. The same tests and preparations that Pason will experience, his Batman doll will face first. And when he wakes up with the new heart, Batman will have been stitched up by the same surgical team that helped Payson.

It’s said that the work of childhood is play. So, when Payson’s doctor, Travis Groth, engages his patients’ imagination, he’s allowing them to be working kids. In that moment when a kid is their toy’s caretaker, they get a break from being a patient. They get to be smart and reassuring and, for a moment, a peer to those helping them.

Clowns ‘fix’ the hospital

Here in Boston, Children’s Hospital has a team of clowns who deliver humor that makes medical care a bit less daunting. Started by the Big Apple Circus in 1986, the Clown Cares program brings trained performers who dress up as clown doctors. Inspired by Dr. Patch Adams, troupes like this use magic, music, storytelling and other clowning skills to help kids deal with the anxieties that even the bravest patients encounter.

Campbell sews hope

No description of caring for kids can be complete without remembering how much kids want to help other kids. Campbell is 12 years old, and he lives in Hobart, Tasmania. Over the last three years, he’s made over 800 plush toys, most of which he personally delivers to sick kids at the Royal Hobart Hospital.

“I just like coming home and making toys” said Campbell in a Facebook video that has now been viewed 29 million times. He decided he wanted to make a bear a day and began Project 365 by Campbell.

Adventure instead of sedation

Plenty of adults fear CT and MRI scans, so imagine how scary they are for kids. According to Slate magazine as many as 80% of pediatric patients have to be sedated for MRIs. So designers Tom and David Kelley worked with GE to create the Adventure Series of imaging equipment. The machines and the rooms they are in are decorated to look like adventures in outer space, underwater, on a pirate ship, or in the jungle.

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at UPMC says the goal is to “provide successful distraction therapy that will appeal to all five senses. Three-dimensional decorative elements were created for an enhanced viewing effect, and lights, sounds, and aromatherapy were added to create a one-of-a-kind experience for each and every patient.”

Spider-Man does windows

Patient gives Spider-man a high-five

Photo: UCLA/Reed Hutchinson

At Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA patients get to see their friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, along with Batman, Captain America, Wonder Woman and the Hulk swing by their windows—and even clean them. Window cleaners dress up for the hospital’s annual Superhero Day celebration and hang out with the kids, in addition to looking cool while getting the grime off the glass. Rick Kincer, owner of the hospital’s window-washing vendor, Sunland Window Cleaning, started doing this back in 2013.

Radio Lollipop, you’re on the air

There’s something about walking into a new place and hearing your tunes. That’s what Radio Lollipop does for children around the world in more than a dozen hospitals. The program is in full force at Texas Children’s Hospital which runs such an in-house, all-volunteer radio station for kids. “Volunteer deejays create excitement among patients by playing Top 40 hits, taking call-in requests and putting kids ‘on air’ to actively participate in the magic of radio. Each on-air broadcast also features games, art projects, storytelling and contests in which kids win prizes. Radio Lollipop makes kids feel important by giving them a voice and a choice during their hospital stay, a time when they may have few pleasant choices.”

Whether it’s Saint Valentine, creative parents and kids, or imaginative caregivers, this is one of the best impulses in people. In fact, sharing these stories and these kind acts may be a bit healing itself. If so, that’s our valentine for you.