At MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital, patients and their families typically have access to art classes, camps, parties, sporting events and hanging out at Kim’s Place, a recreational center for teen patients. But last spring, such in-person activities and events were no longer possible due to COVID-19 precautions. During this time it was even more important for the hospital’s Support Programs team to find a way to help pediatric patients and their families stay connected during cancer care.
Collaborating with multiple donors, foundations and organizations, they were able to do just that. The Support Programs team transitioned existing pediatric patient programs, activities and events to virtual platforms, bringing a community of patients and families together online. MD Anderson’s Support Programs team, comprising Child Life, Camps and Special Events, Arts in Medicine, and the Pediatric Education and Creative Arts Program, paved the way for successful virtual programming in Pediatrics.
The Child Life team offered a mix of activities to create a virtual playroom experience to compensate for the closure of hospital playrooms. They also used therapeutic activities like reading and play to help patients cope with the stress of being separated from loved ones. Child Life also coordinated online bingo games and organized karaoke for patients and siblings. Other unique opportunities included virtual visits by professional athletes and question-and-answer sessions with celebrities.
“Our teams are uniquely trained to help children, adolescents and young adults cope with stress and anxiety through the cancer journey and survivorship,” says Nicole Rosburg, manager of Child, Adolescent and Young Adult Life Program at MD Anderson. “The virtual programming helps patients and their siblings engage in activities, get the therapeutic care that they need and stay connected with other patients.”
The Arts in Medicine team took art and music programs online, offering individual bedside and group music therapy sessions, classes and a variety of staff wellness opportunities. Community partners such as The Faris Foundation, which donated musical instruments and art kits; the Houston Symphony, whose musicians performed patient-selected musical pieces; and others enhanced the patient and family experience.
“Our primary goal is to help the patients feel better while providing huge diversity of arts programming,” says Zach Gresham, Arts in Medicine program manager. “While it looks a bit different since we are taking the highest precautions to protect our patients and families from the virus, the virtual programming has allowed us to flex our creative muscles.”
The Arts in Medicine team is also brightening their colleagues’ day by surprising employees with singing telegrams, a staff wellness initiative developed by Music Therapist Melissa Sandoval. Arts in Medicine also joined the Child Life team in providing inspiring chalk art messages on the sidewalks leading up to the hospital entrances, spreading hope for patients and MD Anderson’s frontline workers.
The Camps and Special Events team normally hosts five in-person summer camps for patients and their siblings. This year, the team transitioned to an online platform and launched Camp on the Go, a virtual camp where patients and siblings could participate from the comfort of their own homes or hospital beds. The Sunshine Kids Foundation and other community partners led online activities and created fun videos for the campers.
“Camp on the Go was an opportunity to keep our patients and siblings engaged in a bit of fun while managing life’s circumstances during a pandemic,” says Tomika Gamble, Camps and Special Events program manager. “We could not have done this without the support of our donors, community partners and trained counselors and volunteers. Not only are we truly grateful for the kindness and generosity, but the families that we serve are too.”
The Pediatric Education and Creative Arts Program, which houses the K-12 accredited school program, offered an array of virtual educational sessions for patients. The school program offered hands-on science experiments, physical education classes and Reading With a Twist, which combined reading aloud and art on a virtual platform.
Donors including the Harry and Estelle Soicher Foundation, Bob Tallman Children’s Charities, Pi Beta Phi and The Faulk Foundation provided a variety of educational tools and resources that helped the Pediatric Education and Creative Arts Program provide an educational and robust virtual environment for patients.
“We are thankful for the collaborative efforts of our many donors to Support Programs and the Children’s Cancer Hospital before and throughout the pandemic,” says Daniel Smith, Pediatric Education manager and MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital school principal.
DJ Daniel at a Camp H-Town virtual dance party. Photo: MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital
Robert Williams of Ms. Monkey’s Emporium at Camp H-Town. Photo: MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital
Woman wearing sunglasses and a moose hat
Employees check out supplies donated by The Faris Foundation. Photo: MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital