Twins Maggie & Grace admire the "Wizard of Oz" pinball machine donated by Project Pinball Charity.

Incorporating fun into care

For young patients facing a difficult time, a little bit of carefree fun goes a long way.

Incorporating fun into care click to enlarge Project Pinball, Inc. held a dedication event at the hospital on April 12. The group is dedicated to providing recreational relief to patients and families in children’s hospitals across the country.

A hospital stay – no matter how short – is a tough adjustment. And for children, the adjustment is oftentimes even more difficult. The team in the UNC Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Unit understands that adding play and routine activities to a child’s hospital stay is an important element of care.

“Every day, we are working to help our patients learn how to address and cope with their feelings – both positive and negative,” said Lee Arphai, health unit coordinator for the UNC Child Psychiatry Unit. “But, play and normalcy is an important part of helping our patients get better. Often, a behavior or a feeling may not present itself in a one-on-one setting. That’s why we offer a variety of activities – both structured and unstructured – to help make their time with us in the hospital fun and healing.”

Arphai says the unit serves children from a variety of backgrounds from all over the state. But, despite distance and differences, the unit is very much a community. She added that the fun activities offered, combined with group time, help patients to open up and interact with each other.

“One of the things I like most about our patients is that we do work as a whole group – one for child and another for adolescent,” Arphai said. “It brings together people with a variety of experience, and you may not put them all together in school. But, at the end of their stay, they often become good friends and really support each another well.”

The average inpatient stay for the unit is 16 days, and Susan Hayek, nurse manager for Child, Adolescent and Eating Disorders Inpatient Psychiatry Units and Outpatient Partial Hospitalization Clinic for Eating Disorders, says that the team of dedicated doctors, nurses, social workers and others work to make sure patients interact with each other in positive ways.

“Many of our patients often come to us already feeling isolated and sometimes stigmatized,” Hayek said. “We try to offer relaxed situations where they can have mini-escapes. Whether it’s playing ping pong or a board game, those types of activities give the kids time to interact with each other, and to see that they’re not alone in what they’re going through.”

The unit recently received a Wizard of Oz-themed pinball machine from Project Pinball Charity Group, Inc. The group is dedicated to providing recreational relief to patients and families in children’s hospitals across the country.

“It’s our hope that the pinball machine will give patients the opportunity to focus on something other than hospital life and have a little fun,” said Daniel Spolar, Project Pinball Charity founder and senior director. “We want to bring joy to children’s lives through active play, and every time we place a machine, it’s a testimony to just how powerful one pinball machine can be.”

The pinball machine joins a host of other fun activities for patients in the unit. Susan says the activities, paired with individualized care from doctors and nurses and group interactions provide the complete, healing care that patients need. 

“At the end of the day, our patients are just kids,” Hayek said. “Life can be challenging and we are here to help set up every child for success. I feel grateful to come to work every day because I truly feel like we’re making an impact and can help change the course of children’s lives. I think I speak for our staff when I say that we strive to make an impact every day.”