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Dolls have special meaning for patients and families
August 04, 2017

When Amy Taylor, LPN, joined the team at our Transitional Care Unit five years ago, she got the best of both worlds, she says, in a profession that allowed her to combine her love of nursing and her love for children.

“I think about our patients on days that I’m off. I worry about them, just like I would for my own child,” she explains, noting that many of the patients have extended stays on the unit due to chronic and/or complex health conditions.

Amy and one of her patients, a little girl who had received a tracheotomy, were walking in the TCU hall one day. The child let go of Amy’s hand and picked up a plastic doll with a trach, frequently used by staff to educate parents about how to care for their child. The little girl touched the trach and looked at Amy. Then she did it again.

“She was excited to see a doll that looked like she did,” shares Amy. “At that moment, I thought our patients deserve to have dolls that really look like them, trachs, tubes and stomas.”

“I remember talking about Amy’s idea at a team huddle and everyone threw in their two cents,” says Carolyn Sterling, RN, CPN, long term care clinical coordinator. “It just flowed from there.”

With Carolyn’s encouragement, Amy immediately started researching and found an online supplier of soft and snuggly dolls with a variety of skin tones, hair and eye colors. Sharon Darby, vice president at CHoR, caught wind of the project and ordered a large supply of the dolls for Amy and her team to retrofit with stomas for trachs and feeding tubes. Amy’s husband, an artist with expertise in textiles, thought a whipstitch would hold the shape of the stomas best. Joyce Nakitto, RN, added her flair by making the stomas resemble tiny flowers.

Since inception, 42 dolls have found new homes with patients in the TCU and/or their siblings. The results have been predictable in many cases and totally unforeseen in others. The children beam with happiness when they receive the dolls. They touch the stomas and trachs, appreciating, it seems the physical similarities they share.

Amy says she’s been surprised by the dolls’ broader impacts. “We’ve had two children pass since they were given dolls. One of the patients’ mothers called us to say how much they appreciated having her son’s doll, and that it provided comfort even after her child passed,” she shares. “I had not considered what it would mean to a family to have their child’s doll.”

Carolyn adds, “The look on the mom’s face when we gave her child his doll [before he passed], was such happiness. The doll looked so much like him. It just made her happy. Just that moment, I realized how special these dolls are.”

Siblings of kids who are on the TCU also can find comfort in the dolls. “We have a patient who is an infant. His sister has a doll and she does trach care and feeding tube care while her mother does these things on her baby brother. That way, it’s not so scary to her.”

“I want people to know about Amy’s big heart and how happy what she has done makes me, the unit and the children,” shares Carolyn. “What she’s done is important.”

“These dolls show our patients and their families how much they are loved,” adds Amy.

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