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Holidays at Children’s National Through the Eyes of a Newbie

Monday, December 23, 2013

Throughout the year, thousands of people committed to putting the needs of children first serve tirelessly to make Children’s National Health System a warm and comfortable home away from home for its patients and their families. 

As a new employee, I am humbled by the various small and grand ways employees and volunteers share holiday cheer to boost the spirits of our young patients. 

Whether it is employees donning costumes and competing in a Halloween contest judged by the children, the decorated units, or the extra time and attention given by volunteers– it helps our patients and families celebrate important childhood occasions while in the hospital. 

This spirit was pronounced during two recent events at the hospital. The star-studded Christmas in Washington, which benefits Children’s National, aired Friday night on TNT. The 32nd annual concert, attended by the President and First Lady, was hosted by Hugh Jackman with performances by the Backstreet Boys, Sheryl Crow, Anna Kendrick, Janelle Monae, and Pat Monahan. It also featured a special appearance by NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley. 

Sir Charles’ Special Visit 

A day before the taping, Barkley visited the hospital – much to the delight of many children, their parents, as well as many Children’s National employees and volunteers. Barkley was not the loud, in-your-face “round mound of rebound” fans have come to expect due to his years in the league and later as an sports analyst for TNT’s “Inside the NBA." 

I was touched by what I saw: He was humble, accommodating, patient, and hilarious. He joked with teenagers and tickled toddlers. He posed in selfies with virtually everyone bearing a handheld device. He answered plenty of children’s questions. But above all, he opened his heart to those gathered in a patient waiting room or in the hallways as he talked about his childhood, his role models, and why his visit to Children’s was important to him.

At times, Barkley drew more attention than Dr. Bear and Santa Claus who accompanied him throughout the 32-bed Hematology and Oncology Care Unit.

He sparked laughter when he described what it was like to work with Bugs Bunny in “Space Jam” and when he said visiting children's hospitals “keeps you grounded” because “kids are a lot easier to deal with than adults.”

“They have a peaceful presence,” he said, adding that he regularly visited pediatric hospitals as a professional athlete, but he wasn’t accompanied by cameras.

Recapping the Annual First Lady’s Visit

It was also touching to see the children’s excitement when First Lady Michelle Obama visited, accompanied by popular pooches Bo and Sunny.

During her visit, she revealed her love for Barbie dolls as a child, hinted at what she plans to give President Obama for Christmas, and expressed her appreciation for her annual visits to the pediatric hospital.

“This is one of my favorite traditions now as an adult. Coming to see you guys at the hospital and coming to visit the kids who can’t come downstairs and then hanging out with you guys,” Mrs. Obama said, before gesturing to an area where local and national press stood. “I don’t take questions from the press – they will tell you that – but I take questions from you,” referring to the children in the audience.

Earlier in the afternoon, Mrs. Obama met with hospital staff and visited patients and families in the Medical Care Unit. The Medical Unit cares for patients who have a variety of different illnesses including asthma, pneumonia, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).

“I was afforded the opportunity to meet the First Lady and it was an amazing experience,” said Maggie Finke, RN, BSN, a clinical coordinator in the Medical Care Unit.

Among the patients whose rooms Mrs. Obama visited was Cole Zeller, 17, who mistakenly thought she was a nurse.

“Then she said her name and I knew she was Mrs. Obama,” Cole said, chuckling at the memory. “She was really, really nice.”

Michaia Flakes said meeting Mrs. Obama a day after her 16th birthday was “so awesome.” I enjoyed hearing her talk about the visit and how they both share a love for pop sensation Beyonce’.

Witnessing these happy moments reminded me of the many ways people can help make the holidays brighter for children who are in the hospital this holiday season.

“Creating memories requires a commitment by doctors, nurses, staff, and volunteers to support families, not just the child who’s being treated,” according to Mark Miller, associate vice president for communications for the Children's Hospital Foundation, the hospital system’s fundraising arm.

“When a child is sick, the entire family is affected,” said Terry Orzechowski, executive director, consumer affairs-ombudsman. “By helping kids, donors and volunteers also help families make it through the holidays.”

 How You Can Help
There are many ways you can help children who are in the hospital this holiday season – and make the holidays a little brighter for them and their families.

  • Help Fill Dr. Bear’s ClosetYou can donate new toys to Dr. Bear’s Closet, or make a cash donation to help keep the closet stocked with games and toys year-round. Dr. Bear’s Closet accepts non-medical items for patients and families such as toys, games books, clothing, toiletries, and art supplies.  Please call 202-476-2062 to arrange a dropoff of toys.

  • Donate Online.  You can make an online gift, honor a friend or relative, become a monthly donor, or give in other ways.

  • Give Blood. The holidays are a particularly important time to donate blood for our young patients, since many surgeries are scheduled over the school break and many of our regular donors are out of town. Make an appointment.


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