Child's Play, Live from Legacy Emanuel Children's Hospital

Adam LaMosca | 22 Jan 2008 17:00
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Some kids arrive by ambulance. Others by helicopter. Some will leave the same day. Others will stay for weeks. Whether they're in the burn unit, the trauma center, the oncology department or the rehabilitation unit, the children at Legacy Emanuel Children's Hospital in Portland, Oregon, all have one thing in common: They'd rather be somewhere else.

Jen Usinger is one of five certified Child Life specialists at Legacy Emanuel, dedicated to helping young patients cope with the pain, anxiety and boredom that inevitably accompany their hospital stays. "It's a kid's job to play and have fun," she says, "and we try to incorporate that into their hospital experience." Penny Arcade's Child's Play charity helps them do just that.

Child's Play, founded in 2003 by Penny Arcade creators Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, recently disclosed that its 2007 holiday donations drive raised more than $1.1 million in cash, toys and games for children's hospitals like Legacy Emanuel. Though Child's Play began as a modest attempt to provide toys and games to the Seattle Children's Hospital, last year the gaming community and industry helped the charity provide donations to 50 hospitals in North America and worldwide.

2007 was Legacy Emanuel's second year as a Child's Play beneficiary. Like other participating hospitals, its patients have benefited from a steady stream of holiday donations, often purchased by Child's Play donors from hospital-specific Amazon.com wish lists. The hospital gets books, DVDs, art activity sets, board games and more. "It's been great," says Usinger. "It's impressive that we get to have a say, because we don't necessarily get a budget to buy toys or videogame systems. It's how we've received all of our hand-held games. Those don't come in through individual donors very often – that's a rarity."

Legacy Emanuel serves children in just about every state of illness or injury you can imagine. It's one of two hospitals in Oregon that accepts pediatric trauma patients via life-flight, a helicopter rescue program for patients in immediate danger of death. It has a state-of-the-art burn treatment center and an inpatient physical rehabilitation unit. Tonsillectomies, chemotherapy, spinal fusions, eating disorders, you name it; kids at Emanuel are going through it. Small things like toys and games make a big difference in their hospital experiences. "Kids get better quicker if they're doing thing that kids should be doing, like playing," says Usinger. "They get better quicker and get out of the hospital quicker. It's not this big scary place, where it was boring and they had tons of pokes and everything hurt."

Games and activities are much more than just novel pastimes. They're a desperately needed distraction from the discomfort and boredom of hospitalization, where kids too often find themselves confined to bed or otherwise isolated. "That's not part of being a kid, and that's not what you should be doing," says Usinger. "What you should be doing is playing. Kids in the hospital aren't going to be outside running laps, but they still need to play. I mean, I can prepare them for surgery, and we can do medical play and all of that stuff, but you can't do that all day. You have to take a mental break. You have to check out and be a kid."

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