At three months old, Eleanor was diagnosed with a rare liver disease that eventually required a liver transplant when she was seven.
Eleanor’s childhood has been full of worry, medical procedures and interventions to keep her alive. The treatments Eleanor experienced have left her family so focused on making it to the next day that they often lost sight of the fact that Eleanor, her older brother and her parents still needed to be able to laugh and play.
Fortunately, the Health Play Specialists who worked with Eleanor were there to remind the family to smile and laugh and to remember the importance of play.
What the play stuff did was [teach] us how important it was to laugh again, to smile and to play. We had forgotten all of that, our priority was keeping her alive. We had lost sight of the fact that this child still needed to laugh and play. It didn’t just help her but, the Play Specialist input helped us all as a family.
The support provided by the Play Specialists helped Eleanor reduce her anxiety over the medical procedures she endured. Play Specialists used teddy bears and dolls to walk Eleanor and her family through her treatment in ways they would understand. For example, Eleanor’s dolls were given nose feeding tubes, teddy’s had blood tests and cannula’s inserted, and syringes were filled with water in the bath to help Eleanor get used to medical equipment.
By focusing on play, Eleanor’s attention was diverted from the scary procedures to the toys and games (often provided from Starlight boxes) that helped distract and entertain her throughout her procedures.
Because Eleanor was less scared and stressed through her treatment, Eleanor’s mum Claire was able to deal with her own anxiety and fears.
The play interventions also helped Eleanor and her family get ready for her transplant when she was 7 years old. Whilst she underwent the preparation and the numerous emergency operations that followed, play was both a lifeline and a way to ensure normality remained prevalent in family life.
The stress balls, arts and crafts and things are all brilliant. When Eleanor was finally able to get out of bed after treatment in Birmingham she was able to have a bit of normality and do arts and crafts, things like that.
Today, Eleanor is 12 and is striving to live a full and happy life. Whilst the pandemic brought huge restrictions, worries and challenges back into family life due to Eleanor’s compromised immune system, Claire says that this time around they remembered to ensure laughter and fun remain at the heart of their day.
Starlight has been a source of great comfort and support in this endeavour. Eleanor and her family were able to attend our Greatest Showman Drive-In movie over the summer – something that Claire describes as simply wonderful to be able to do again as a family. The safe and socially distanced event meant that Eleanor could play and have fun whilst leaving he every day worries of her illness behind. She particularly enjoyed meeting the characters who kept all of our families entertained!
We felt it was somewhere safe for us to go as a family. They had all these people dressed up and these really amazing over the top people on stilts. The kids were all running after them, really good fun. It was so wonderful to see the kids just have such a fun time. It was just so exciting to get out.
More than half of all UK hospitals are without the budget or resources they need to make play happen for seriously ill children like Eleanor, meaning they do not have what they need to address the anxiety and uncertainty of treatment.
Starlight are committing to deliver essential toys, games, books and immersive entertainment to 300 hospitals that don’t currently have our resources and are most urgently in need of our support.
This Christmas, will you join us to ensure that seriously ill children across the UK experience the escape, distraction and power of play at the time they need it most?