Healing the Spirit, A Children's HealthLink Special

Writing Session
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From a good dose of dog to a super strong shot of Spider-Man, caregivers and patients share the inspiring ways Seattle Children's helps kids feel better. Jean Enersen reports.

Many of the programs at Seattle Children's rely on your donations. Click here to help out.

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SEATTLE -- It's a volunteer job with plenty of perks. Not only will treats be shared, but so will plenty of pampering. Then, there's the ultimate payoff, making kids smile. Gordon Knight and his dog, Lee Roy, regularly make the rounds at Seattle Children's to lighten the mood in hospital rooms heavy with medicine and machinery.

"It's just so neat to see the kids respond to the small Lee Roy and he will snuggle with them. Do tricks and play with them," said Knight.

During each visit, Lee Roy will not only do a few tricks, he'll let the kids pet him. Sometimes he arrives in costume. Lee Roy is a dapple dachshund and can easily fit on a hospital bed.

When Lee Roy and Knight arrived at the room of Peter Empey, it reminded the patient of home. Empey has been in and out of the hospital since he was two and a half years old. His latest stay will last five weeks.

Empey's mom, Susan said, "Being a dog family of our own, it brings a nice bit of home. And it's just, those little touches that really can make a yucky situation palatable."

Lee Roy and Knight aren't the only pet partners at Seattle Children's. They are one of twelve teams in the "Visiting Dog Program" coordinated by Christi Dudzik.

She works along side "Paddy" and witnesses everyday what these companions can do.

"They touch people on a level that we can't touch each other. They are right there with you every step of the way," Dudzik said.

Their teamwork comes to light as they meet with a patient named Lauren and her physical therapist.
Cerebral palsy limits the 4-year-old's mobility, but with Dudzik's guidance, Paddy will encourage Lauren to reach out and pet him.

A well-behaved Paddy makes the work appear effortless, but it takes plenty of training to become a top dog in animal-assisted therapy.

"It really comes down to their temperament," said Dudzik. "And, that's why you will see different breeds doing this because they have the right temperament."

What Paddy learned to do, Dudzik shares with others at her Woodinville school, "Healing Paws". All sorts of breeds, even mutts, have graduated from Dudzik's program and succeeded in the work Paddy begs to do.

"Who wouldn't love a job like he has, with people loving on him, and telling him how beautiful he is. And he, gets his paycheck right on the spot," she said.

For all the families at Seattle Children's, there's nothing quite like a good dose of dog to heal the spirit.

"I have seen miracles happen because I am standing on the end of the leash," said Dudzik.

To make a donation to help the volunteer dogs and their partners, click here.

SEATTLE -- The simple strum of a guitar strengthens the arm of physical therapy patient, Abby. Not the arm in a cast, the other one making music.

"We are moving the arm that she has a hard time moving," said music therapist, David Knott.

Knott conducts Abby through a series of exercises, like banging a drum, to give her arm a workout. But, when it's this fun playing instruments, Abby doesn't know she's participating in a therapy session prescribed by her doctor at Seattle Children's.

"I hope it's entertaining," said Knott. "But, beyond it being fun, we also look at what can be functional about using music in this setting. "The idea is you are forcing use with their affected arm or affected side and this causes changes in the brain which causes functional improvement."

In another area of the hospital, patients move to the beat of a different drummer. In a jam session with Betsy Hartman, music not only entertains 2-year-old Justin. It keeps him active during cancer treatment.

"When he first came to the hospital he was really, really scared," explained Hartman. "Now he is ready to play at the drop of a hat."

Hartman is also a music therapist at Seattle Children's. She's assigned to the cancer care unit.

"The bonus of music is that it has this ability to get to the soul," said Hartman. "You feel comfortable or relaxed or taken care of. I had one kid describe it to me as the music gives me a hug."

It brings comfort to Stu Winter. Learning to play the song "Stand By Me" with Hartman on the ukulele reminds him of family.

"It makes me feel like I am playing at home with my sisters," said Winter.

What Stu learns from Hartman, he can revisit when no one else is around.

"So, my goal with him is to equip him with the tools and abilities to play an instrument so he can have an outlet, an independent outlook, so I don't even have to be with him," said Hartman.

Every note played delivers a resounding dose of medicine, and that's music to everyone's ear.

The music therapy program relies on donations to keep going. If you would like to help out, click here.

SEATTLE -- Hearing the painful cry of three year old Madeline Holt breaks the heart. She hurts from the genetic disorder, Zellweger syndrome and there's only so much medication can do. Even comforting from her mom, Meagan can't make it all better. But, there is help, tender touches from Liz Artola.

After Artola arrives and goes to work, Madeline calms down. Silence brings relief throughout the room.

"As a mom, that makes me feel incredible, said Holt.

Holt calls on Artola regularly to treat Madeline with acupressure and acupuncture.

"You only have to see it once to have it in your mind, 'Oh, she's having bad pain, you better page acupuncture right now'," said Holt.

Artola said, "I see this (acupuncture) as a complimentary, innovative sort of therapy, so we are an add-on and we don't take away from what's already happening here."

In-patient acupuncture started at Seattle Children's as a pilot program. It became so popular and requested by parents, Artola and her colleague now visit patients throughout the hospital five days a week.

"This is an option for patients", said Artola. "Patients have the ability to say 'yes' or 'no' to us and I feel we are in partnership."

Acupuncture is a way to balance the body.

Artola explained, "When the body is in balance, in harmony, and you feel good there are no issues. But it's thought when the body is out of balance, discomfort and disease occurs. So, the idea is by doing acupuncture, or acupressure, you bring the body back in balance."

Acupuncture involves applying needles, magnets or hand-pressure to various points throughout the body to ease a variety of problems including pain, nausea and anxiety.

It works for Fiona Lynch who said there are no side effects, except feeling better and the needles don't hurt at all.

"No, it doesn't hurt at all , just feels like a tiny little poke, but it's like as thin as your hair so you don't feel anything," said the sixteen-year-old.

Acupuncture helps Lynch deal with her Crohn's disease.

"It makes me feel more relaxed. It helps my nausea and it helps my stomach," she said.

Lynch sees Artola often and welcomes the extra care that comes with a friendly face.

"I know she will help me with the acupuncture," said Lynch.

To find out more about acupuncture and acupressure at Seattle Children's , click here.

SEATTLE -- "I can drift away in a different world I know exists."

"I would grow until I touched the sky."

Throughout Seattle Children's words like these flow. Hopes and dreams echo through hallways and hospital rooms.

"So loud it causes harmony and thunder."

From the youngest of patients come poignant thoughts shared through poetry. Some students at the hospital may be reluctant at first to put pen to paper But, with the guidance of professional poets, their creativity finds freedom.

Brian Ross, manager of Seattle Children's Educational Services said, "These are things that help kids and remind them that they can in fact move on despite the fact of the situation that brought them to Children's. And they can participate in an enrichment program like any other school might offer, it just happens to be in the middle of a hospital."

Ross was instrumental in bringing the Writers In The Schools program, 'WITS', to Seattle Children's. So was Cheryl Arnett, manager of the Pediatric Advanced Care Team.

Arnett said, "Some patients say the WITs program has changed their lives, being able to create that poetry and piece of art."

Poet Ann Teplick shares her expertise in the hospital's classroom while Sierra Nelson works one-on-one with patients confined to the Cancer Care Unit.

She helped 17-year old Mariah McHenry write her first poem.

McHenry said, "It's called 'The Lake' and it's about me sitting in the hospital room and I could see the lake and I just always wanted to go outside. It kind of gave me hope and then I get to share it with people."

McHenry read some of her poem out loud, "My last day in the hospital I could look through the window and see the lake. Now I could see hope."

It takes courage not only to write a poem, but to read it aloud. At a noon-time event , the young writers celebrated their new-found talents by reciting their words. Some excerpts from their presentation include;

"Hope is powerful with great jaws and he does not shy"

"I rise, I am free."

"Can't eat, stomach aching, vomiting words of courage."

"You are a warrior, you are hope."

"I could feel the power and resilience within me and I felt free."

The poetry program at Seattle Children's relies on donations to continue. If you would like to help out, click here.

SEATTLE -- It starts with a prompt, a question to get Meagan Holt thinking.

"Responding to that question? She doesn't have cancer, it's worse," said Holt while participating in a writing session with coach Sierra Nelson.

Holt spontaneously shares what's on her mind and then puts pen to paper. She writes in her notebook, "We are trying to stay in the present moment instead of worrying about her impending death that should have already happened."

Holt is talking and writing about her daughter Madeline. A disorder called Zellweger Syndrome will most likely take the 3-year-old's life. Holt wakes up to that nightmare everyday. But, a new writing program at Seattle Children's is helping Holt unlock trapped emotions and expose them through words.

Holt said about her essays, "It can be really simple, but it's usually very powerful, it's something where it's giving me an outlet to get rid of all this stuff that I use to just bottle up."

Encouraging parents to express themselves by journaling is offered by the Pediatric Advanced Care Team (PACT) at Seattle Children's.

Consultant Julie Arguez said, "It is a huge empowerment tool for them. They are asked to talk about what's on their mind and heart. This is forcing them to take time and space and think what do I need to be present and well?" She added, "There is a sense of calm that comes, a sense of relief that comes, and even a sense of acceptance that sometimes comes."

That holds true for Holt who now speaks her truth by writing down words.

"When people tell me, 'you are so strong. I don't know how you do it', this helps me do it," said said.

The writing program relies on donations to keep going. If you would like to help, click here.

SEATTLE -- When local actor Clayton Michael puts on his Spider-Man costume, he suddenly has super powers to fight pain and bring goodness to a universe populated by little patients.

It's a role in which Michael rules.

"It makes me feel like I have really made it as a performer," he said.

When Michael's not on stage working for the theater company, Live Wires, he volunteers to play a variety of parts at Seattle Children's, including Spider-Man.

His surprise performance in the hospital room of Luis, comes with a strong message to help the 5-year old overcome the evils of illness.

Michael tells Luis, "You are getting better and stronger everyday, I can see that right there. You are real super, you can help other people , too."

After visiting Luis, Michael makes a quick costume change to become Elmo from Sesame Street.

Elmo's surprise performance tickles 4-year old Stevie. It fills the room with laughter.

On this stage, there are no small parts, just caring actors with big hearts. Michael learned that after visiting a patient at the hospital in the most tragic of times.

"The child was dying", said Michael.

Even a super hero couldn't conquer cancer that day.

"So, I got to come as Spider-Man and probably spent the last few minutes with him and that will be with me forever and that's why I come here," said Michael with tears in his eyes.

The motto of Spider-Man rings true with each and every visit, "With great power comes great responsibility".

It can make the weak stronger and the spirit mighty for the good of all.

"It makes me feel like a real super hero even though I don't have super hero powers," said Michael.

The Pediactric Advanced Care Team (PACT) schedules Spider-Man's and Elmo's visits. They rely on donations to keep the program going. If you would like to help, click here.

SEATTLE -- A medical cart loaded with supplies arrives at the hospital room of twelve year old, Selphie. It's stocked with everything she needs right now to feel better. But, there's not an ounce of medicine on board. Instead, Helena Hillinga Haas brings pots of color and pads of construction paper.

Selphie wants to build a bridge out of cardboard and Haas will help her do it. She is one of two art therapists at Seattle Children's.

"When we come in, we offer art materials as a way for the kids to be comforted or perhaps distracted if they are feeling any pain or anxiety," said Hellinga Haas. "The ability for us to offer a choice to the kids is really important because so much is dictated to them as far as their treatment. "

Art therapist, Rosalie Frankel added, "It's really important to help the healing process that people are relaxed and engaged."

Frankel also delivers a healthy dose of creativity to patients. She brings an armload of supplies into the room of fourteen year old Preston. Sketching abstract circles is helping him cope with a long stay in the hospital.

"It's just nice and relaxing. Sometimes it seems to help more than the medicine does, Preston said.

Over in Jaylin's room, it's cancer that keeps him from playing like other kids. But, through art he can share a playful moment with Frankel and express what's on his mind without saying a word.

Jaylin's drawing of a character who eats a lot of 'skeety and butter' speaks volumes to Frankel and his mom, Robin Israelcox.

"You know today he was hungry and he has mouth sores and it's hard to eat and those are the things he was grappling with today. So, I think that things that are on his mind come out in his artwork," Israelcox said.

It's art any parent can appreciate and with the help of a trained therapist it can erase pain and inspire the body to heal.

"And the more we know about them, the more we can provide what they need," said Frankel.

If you would like to support the art therapy program, click here.

SEATTLE - With a scalpel in hand, Dr. Kimberly Riehle can make an incision with precision. Not only is she a skilled pediatric surgeon at Seattle Children's. She's also an artist of sorts.

But, Dr. Riehle knows she's no Rembrant.

"No, I have no artistic talent," claimed Riehle.

Even so, she creatively cuts shapes out of gauze and then displays her art where it can be best appreciated.

Riehle explained, "And that (gauze) just goes on the belly button or where ever the surgical site was."

Dr. Riehle's gallery of work includes bandages made in the shapes of everything from trains to trees.

"Hearts and stars are the most common that I do because you can make them small," she said.

Dr. Riehle designs each bandage to match the interests of her patients.

"There was one girl who was obsessed with the band One Direction," Riehle explained. "So for her, I cut out a gauze with their logo on it, 1-D."

Today, Dr. Riehle performs minor surgery on the leg of a little girl. She plans to cover the stitches with one of her cut outs.

"I'm going to try and make a flower," said Riehle during surgery.


It may not be ornate or elaborate, but in the eyes of the beholder, it is a beautiful way to ease the pain of surgery for patients and their parents.

"I almost want to remind them that their child is going to get better, and get back to the things they normally like to do," said Riehle.