Programs make hospital stay nicer for kids

Shanghai Children’s Hospital has developed special programs to cater to patients, including regular school lessons so they don’t miss out on class work.
Programs make hospital stay nicer for kids
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Niu Jun (second from right) and other volunteers do crafts work with children suffering from leukemia as part of a Shanghai Children’s Hospital effort to take their minds off pain and put some fun in their lives.

Being hospitalized is never pleasant, particularly for children. Not only do they have medical problems to face but also social and educational isolation from normal children.

A boy named Chengcheng is a “regular visitor” at Shanghai Children’s Hospital. He was diagnosed with leukemia about two years ago and often needs to be hospitalized for weeks at a time to receive treatment.

Shanghai Children’s Hospital has developed special programs to cater to patients like Chengcheng, including regular school lessons so they don’t miss out on class work.

Starting last year, teachers from 12 Shanghai kindergartens, primary and middle schools have been coming to the hospital once a week to give lessons to young leukemia patients. The ward school, the first of its kind, is held in a room fitted out to look just like a regular classroom. The curriculum covers Chinese, math, social studies, science and art.

“I like it,” Chengcheng said. “Here I have teachers and friends.”

“This school ensures that they won’t be behind when they return to regular schools,” said Niu Jun, head of the hospital’s social work office.

Niu, 39, was a lab technician when he graduated from medical school and began work at the hospital 20 years ago. Twelve years ago, he requested a transfer to the social work department, where he has been touched by the brave hearts of young patients.

“They never utter a sound when they are receiving chemotherapy or bone marrow punctures, which can be very painful,” he said. “They don’t want to worry their parents so they just endure pain as best they can.”

Programs make hospital stay nicer for kids
Ti Gong

In-hospital school keeps children from missing out on regular class work.

Niu is determined to make their hospital stay more pleasant. It’s a big task. Nearly half of China’s annual 30,000-to-40,000 increase in leukemia cases are children. They face long treatment.

Niu said he believes that happiness can make children heal faster. His idea is to create a non-hospital environment for young patients as a way of showing them that they are still part of normal society.

In addition to the school, the hospital has set up a playroom for young patients. They also have access to lessons in painting and reading, and they are taken on outings to places like Shanghai Disneyland and the Oriental Pearl TV Tower.

“We hope to give them quality of life,” Niu said. “We want them to have time when they forget disease and pain. We want them to think of the hospital as more than just a cold-hearted place that gives injections and dispenses pills.”

Programs make hospital stay nicer for kids
Ti Gong

Volunteer Wang Yiqun, an amateur painter, gives art lessons to young patients.

Three years ago, Niu and his co-workers conducted a survey that found nearly two in three young leukemia patients had emotional troubles. Many were anxious about missing out on school. Some were introverted and depressed.

The ward school resulted from the survey. “We have an obligation to help them grow up, despite disease,” Niu said.

In 2005, he ended a volunteer stint in a backward area of Yunnan Province, which gave Niu fresh insights about helping young patients.

“I saw that aid is not just about giving people or coming to see them a few times a week,” he said. “To really make a difference, you have to become truly involved in the lives of people. We can’t think about what they can bring to us, but rather what we can give to them.”

The Shanghai Children’s Hospital utilizes volunteers of all ages and professions to give that loving touch to medical care.

Programs make hospital stay nicer for kids
Ti Gong

Children can participate in charity fair to donate their belongs and raise money for the ill peers.

Wanna help? Guidelines for getting involved

For almost the last two decades, about 120,000 people have participated in volunteer work organized by the Shanghai Children’s Hospital. It offers suggestions based on age groups.

1. Children under the age of 6

Parents can take them to a charity fair where children donate toys, books or other items for sale to raise money to help chronically ill children. The process can help them understand those less fortunate and teach them how to develop a caring nature.

2. Primary school students

They can join a one-day visit to the hospital to see how doctors work, and they can play with young patients.

3. Middle school students

They have access to a five-day “immersive experience.” Each student follows a doctor around on his ward visits and watches experiments done in the hospital laboratory. It’s a way of helping them realize how precious life is and may even encourage some to think about careers in healthcare.

4. High school students

Besides “immersive experiences,” they can also help design charity programs that benefit the sick.

5. University students

They can be encouraged to parlay their skills into useful volunteer services. For example, students majoring in computer science can help develop online platforms for volunteers, and students majoring in art can help decorate ward walls.

6. White-collar workers

Busy office workers can be asked to spare an hour to do volunteer work at the hospital. It costs nothing but a little time.

7. Retired people

They can assist as information guides in hospital corridors, fielding questions from visitors who often don’t know the way to departments they are seeking.

Programs make hospital stay nicer for kids
Ti Gong

Children are shown by doctors how to use a microscope as part of occupational therapy. 

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