Meet Debbie, Spread a Smile Visit Manager

780 400 Susie

Spread a Smile Visit Managers play a vital role facilitating the delivery of our services across our hospital and hospice partners. Acting as the point of contact between our partners and the entertainment team, they ensure the smooth running of our visits.

Meet Debbie Tropp who has been a Spread a Smile Visit Manager for seven years and read on to find out more about her work.

Tell us about your role with Spread a Smile and what it involves…

“I started working for Spread a Smile nine years ago, providing monthly art and craft sessions at the Royal London Hospital in their huge playroom. Straight away I loved it. I love working with the amazing children and families, the fabulous medical staff, Spread a Smile’s talented team of entertainers and the incredible team in the office.  

“Since the pandemic, I am mainly based at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), organising the regular weekly visits into the intensive care areas. This involves teaming up with one of our talented singers and visiting all of the babies, children and teenagers in the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and Cardiac Intensive Care Unity (CICU) and also the older babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The singers will sing beautiful songs from nursery rhymes to Disney, show tunes and pop songs. We mostly sing to the patients but also take parent requests too. Anything goes really.

“I also help deliver the Spread a Smile weekly entertainer visits on a Thursday morning to GOSH, where we try and visit as many wards and hospital areas as we can, delivering a whole range of entertainment from music, to magic, to therapy dog and fairy visits.”

What does a day in the life of a Visit Manager look like?

“I meet up with the entertainer(s) before going into the hospital and we walk to the ward, always following infection control procedures. We normally see the nurse in charge or Play Specialist for a quick hand over and then proceed to walk around the ward, being mindful of what is going on for each individual patient.

“We absolutely love it when a staff member specifically tells us that they have someone they want us to see. It’s amazing how beneficial our interactions and singing are for the patient, parent and all medical and non-medical staff. Often, I observe staff singing along, tapping away or doing a fully shimmy as our entertainer sings to the child and family. A few times the medical staff have noticed positive changes in a child’s heart recording. Many times, I have seen children really relax and even fall asleep.

“We receive so many positive comments saying that our visits have helped reduce anxiety and brought out smiles in children who haven’t smiled for a while. I remember Tash, one of our singers once singing to three babies, one after the other, all in a row, sending them all to sleep. The atmosphere completely changed and staff and parents were all talking about the wonderful therapeutic value of soft singing.”

Tell us about your specialist work in the intensive care areas at GOSH

“I feel honoured to be allowed to visit the intensive care areas and help provide some therapeutic input in a very clinical situation. We started regular visits just before the pandemic lockdown and then worked closely with medical staff and Matrons to continue to deliver these sessions. Even during the pandemic, I would have an iPad and use that to deliver the entertainment, with our singers singing virtually. This is something we have continued with some of the most vulnerable children under infection control. It’s important work, providing much needed and wanted distraction, stimulation and entertainment to the patient and everyone in the room with them. Being able to visit these patients in PICU and CICU from outside the room means we can help create some very special moments and memories during a very intense time for the families.”

“We had a baby in PICU recently, who hadn’t slept properly all day and was lying in her Mother’s arm. I approached the Mum, quietly inquiring if they would like us to sing. At first she was a bit hesitant as her child was so exhausted, really struggling to sleep. Mum also said that her baby usually loved to hear singing especially Disney and nursery rhymes as she had an older child. I reassured Mum that we could stop at any time. Our lovely talented fairy Tamara sang very softly, nursery and Disney songs and you could just see the Mother and child relax and connect as Tamara sang. Around us the doctors were listening, the nurses were swaying and the parents in the next bed where smiling as they watched their child sleeping. The whole atmosphere was soothed by the singing. The Mum was so happy that we had visited that we ended up going back again to sing to her older child who came to visit a while later.”

What is the best thing about your role? 

“Seeing the huge difference we make to children and families in the intensive care units is very special. It is also amazing to connect with the lovely caring staff in hospital who work so hard to support their patients.

“When a parent sees and shares the benefit of our visit with us, it’s amazing as we know that what we’re doing is worthwhile and making such a difference. We often support families who have been on the wards for a long time, and we feel part of their journey. When they get to go home, it is a very emotional time and it’s wonderful when they then access our Spread a Smile virtual entertainment, family parties and events. We are on their journey with them for as long as they need us.”

Can you share any poignant experiences with us?

“During lockdown, when infection control procedures allowed, I set up a music group with singing and instruments for a small group of children waiting for a heart and/or lung transplant in a high dependency unit at GOSH. I am a qualified Play Specialist and was allowed to come in once a week to spend time with a wonderful group of children. Only one parent was allowed to visit, so we would Zoom in other family members to join in with the session. It felt so important to be helping to connect families during one of the most difficult times of their lives, when the pandemic and serious illness were keeping them apart.

“Before the Pandemic we visited PICU and CICU once or twice a week. From the end February 2021, all visits stopped, so we made art packs to send in for the children on the wards, along with presents to help cheer them up. I agreed with GOSH and Spread a Smile that I would volunteer at the GOSH, using my volunteer badge and experience as a qualified Hospital Play Specialist. I was given a yellow volunteer top to wear and it felt like such a proud moment.

“I helped out on Bear ward once a week on a Tuesday and it was so strange at first wearing a mask for the whole day. It was hard for the patients and their families as only one parent was allowed to stay with their child on the ward and it had to be the same parent each time, meaning families where separated. I remember some parents didn’t get to see their children on the wards, for four months during the first lockdown.

“Alongside the music group, I also worked with Spread a Smile to deliver entertainment via Zoom on iPads so that the children could enjoy even more of the Spread a Smile ‘magic’. As time went on, we expanded our offering to other wards and I increased the number of days I visited, also being allowed to visit children in PICU. It was a challenging, but special time knowing we were making a difference when it was needed most.

“I love my work and one of the best things is when staff stop us as we walk around the hospital telling us that we do exactly what it says on our t-shirts ‘Spread a Smile’.