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Program at Mercy Provides a Bright Spot for Ill Children

Photo Credit: Michele Skalicky

Once a month, Janel Bagby puts on her fairy wings and takes art supplies and dress up clothes to the pediatric ICU at Mercy Hospital in Springfield.  Kids there who are facing an array of medical issues are able to forget about their illnesses for a short while as they dress as their favorite characters, listen to live music, dance and create art.

Harp music

On this particular day, two-year-old Miciela Gomez donned her own set of fairy wings and decorated a small clay pot with jewels while listening to the sounds of a harp.

Harp music

The visits are part of Discovery Arts, a non-profit organization that serves six hospitals in California.  According to Janel Bagby, Mercy Springfield is the first hospital in the Midwest to offer the program to its pediatric patients and has been doing so for three years.

Janel is the local coordinator of Discovery Arts.  She says its mission is to bring art, music, dance and drama to children with cancer, serious blood disorders and life threatening illness while they’re receiving treatment.  But at Mercy, all pediatric patients are served by the program.  And she says it helps takes their minds off what they’re going through.

“I think the most important thing is that, for these children, whether it’s short term or long term illness that brings them to the hospital—you know, you’re going into the hospital.  It’s a kind of sterile environment for a child who’s sick and here they’re taken away from their home and their school and the warmth of their family love and friends, and so, if you can bring them any kind of normalcy into that situation, that’s the most important thing,” she said.

She says seeing joy on the faces of children who are facing a serious illness keeps her motivated to try to serve even more kids.

She remembers her first visit to the Jane Pitt Pediatric Cancer Center at Mercy where a little girl was celebrating her fifth birthday.

“When I brought out the costume, she pointed at the green fairy skirt, and it had a matching headband with little pink flowers, and I gave her this silver sparkly wand, and she touched her mom first and then she started touching like the child life specialist with her wand, and they would spin around and so I think she got the idea that it’s magical because everybody would spin when they were touched with the wand, and the medical staff started peeking in and she was so excited that they had to disconnect her from her IVs, and she got up from her pillows and climbed down to the floor and was twirling,” she said.

According to Janel Bagby, there was no music yet, but the little girl heard it in her head, and she was dancing.

She says she gets as much if not more out of Discovery Arts as the children she visits.

“I mean, when you’re encouraging self-expression and imagery and movement and you’re inspiring them to be creative and giving them a sense of peace in a situation that could be very daunting to them, you walk away, you’re changed.  It transforms you,” she said.

Janel Bagby received some good advice once from the founder of Discovery Arts—look past the illness to the soul of the child and smile.  That’s what she does each month when she visits the kids at Mercy.

For KSMU News, I’m Michele Skalicky.