Just what doctor ordered: Donated stuffed toys for young patients

CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON/The Daily Sentinel—Debra Smith, an emergency room doctor at Community Hospital, wheels a gurney loaded with stuffed toys into the hospital after members of the Just 4 Fun Car Club delivered them Saturday. The stuffed animals will be given mainly to young patients as a way to relieve their anxiety about being taken to the hospital. Each year, club members also distribute toys to other locations to help make the holidays a little brighter for children in the Grand Valley.

In need of a distraction, Dr. Debra Smith reached for a worm.

Desperate to start an intravenous line on a 5-year-old girl who showed up dehydrated a few months ago on Smith’s shift at Community Hospital’s emergency room, the doctor said she went looking for the box holding the last few remaining stuffed animals from last year’s Just 4 Fun Car Club toy drive.

Of the hundreds of stuffed critters delivered by the club around Christmas last year, just one remained: a 6-inch green worm sprinkled with a variety of colored dots.

It did the trick.

“When I brought it into the room, the first thing Mom says to me was, ‘You know what, she still has a stuffed animal you gave her three years ago when she was here,’ ” Smith said on Saturday. “A lot of the time when you bring a stuffed animal into the room, you’re automatically trusted.”

Those doctor-young patient bonding moments will continue through next year thanks again to the Just 4 Fun Car Club.

Members of the club rumbled into the parking lot of Community Hospital on Saturday and delivered more than 400 stuffed animals, said Chris Thomas, Community Hospital’s chief executive officer and president. The gifts filled two hospital beds in the emergency room.

“They’ve been doing this 12 years,” Thomas said. “When a kid comes into our emergency department, they help take away that anxiety.”

As evidenced by the smattering of Easter bunnies and Valentine’s Day-themed stuffed toys, the car club collects the gifts year-round for the Christmas delivery.

“We have another group that makes wooden toys for us, but not too many girls want a wooden truck,” Smith said.

The stuffed animals aren’t exclusively for young patients. They’re often given to Alzheimer’s patients, she said.

“They come in here frightened and don’t know what’s going on, so giving them something to hold on to is important,” Smith said,


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