Spread a Smile has been supporting Northwick Park NHS Hospital since August 2021 through our monthly in person visits to children and young people on the ward and oncology clinic. Patients are also welcome to join any of our online services including weekly group sessions and half-term activities and when needed, we organise special, bespoke visits for individual oncology patients.
For Children’s Mental Health Week, we spoke to Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialists Miriam Sager and Tenneh Koroma about the role of Spread a Smile at the hospital and the impact on positive mental health and wellbeing for the children, young people and staff on the ward and clinic.
When did you first find out about Spread a Smile?
“I first found out about Spread a Smile and the great work they do whilst working for Great Ormond Street Hospital many years ago. Forwarding on a few years, following a chance encounter with the Spread a Smile’s CEO Lucy Jackson, a new link and partnership was forged between the charity and Northwick Park Hospital.” (Miriam)
What impact does Spread a Smile have on the hospital staff and patients?
“Spread a Smile makes an impact on everyone they meet on the wards. The families are always so grateful for everything they do. Whether Spread a Smile attends and support in clinic, initiates play on the ward or gives online classes and demonstrations to families at home, the patients and their families are always re-energised and love seeing the happiness and laughter in the children’s faces.
“For staff on the paediatric wards, the impact of Spread a Smile is hugely positive and uplifting in spirit. They bring so much light and happiness with them and we are lifted seeing the excitement from the patients and how at ease the parents and wider families become. I’m pretty sure there are more requests for photos from staff than patients!
“During the most difficult times post Covid, when restrictions on visitors were still in place, the Spread a Smile visits played an even more important role. They filled such a huge gap and enlightened the ward and clinic.”
What would it be like if Spread a Smile wasn’t there?
“The clinics would be far more clinical, boring and less interactive and fun without Spread a Smile. We don’t have dedicated play specialists most of the time with our patients, so Spread a Smile helps fill the gap for us and allows the clinic and clinical treatments such as chemotherapy, infusions and transfusions to be given in a fun, joyous environment, full of silliness, happiness and giggles.
Welcoming the wonderful Spread a Smile team, especially after Covid has been exactly what we needed.”
Tell us about a memorable Spread a Smile moment.
“There are so many! We initially started involving Spread a Smile to support us and help elaborate the celebrations for children finishing treatment and ringing the ‘End Of Treatment Bell’. The first child was a little 4-year-old girl who was extremely shy. She never spoke to us during treatment, always looking at her mum to speak for her.
“On this special day Spread a Smile’s Fairy Ellie joined the celebration, singing songs from Frozen. Magician Ian was also there doing wonderful magic tricks and balloon modelling. All of a sudden, this shy little girl came to life! She started engaging with everyone, ringing the bell so loudly and proudly that there wasn’t a dry eye in the clinic. Pure happiness was shared all around.
“Another little boy we look after, was often very unwell after his chemotherapy and spent long periods of time in the hospital. This little boy was at his happiest and most content playing with dolls in his room. His Dad received a call from Spread a Smile to offer him a last-minute cancellation ticket to go and see Frozen in the West End. The Dad didn’t tell him where he was going until they were in the taxi for fear of him being too unwell to go.
“When they returned, the pure joy and excitement on the little boy’s face was incredible. Seeing that and hearing his recollection of his outing, the Frozen cast, the trip to a musical, was truly emotional and heart-warming. It made all of our day.
We also had a beautiful 12-year-old young lady who was towards end of life and had spent a lot of time in hospital. Her mobility and eyesight had deteriorated but, we still wanted to do something special for her. One phone call to Spread a Smile and we were able to welcome two beautiful Spread a Smile entertainers who used touch to gently massage her arms, whilst she sang Disney songs with them. Together they created a special video memory moment that the parents can treasure forever.”
What makes you smile?
“We smile just working with these wonderful, brave children and their families who are going through such tough cancer journeys. Every time we hear a child we are caring for giggle and laugh along with the Spread a Smile entertainers, it is huge. Knowing that for a brief period they can just be children brings a smile to our faces and it makes the tough times that bit easier.”
Please help us continue our vital work spreading smiles to children in hospital by donating today. Thank you.