Sunshine Bags ‘light up’ eyes of young Oakville hospital patients

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Published October 31, 2022 at 5:42 pm

Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital ED registered nurse Sharan Bhella hopes her Sunshine Bags will be a positive distraction for the hospital's youngest patients, help them feel more comfortable and foster a therapeutic relationship. HALTON HEALTHCARE PHOTOS

Sharan Bhella hands the Sunshine Bag to a young pediatric patient in the Emergency Department (ED) at Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital (OTMH).

The Halton Healthcare ED registered nurse then watches as a nervous smile turns to sheer excitement.

“Over the past few weeks, when I have shared the Sunshine Bags there’s a moment when a child’s eyes light up with excitement and surprise,” said Bhella. “When I see a smile – even a masked one, their body posture shifts from tense to relaxed and hearing a sigh of relief – it simply fills my heart with joy.

“It is the moment of seeing trust in the making and is my small contribution to making a more positive experience for our youngest patients.”

Bhella herself specifically created the Sunshine Bag for the young pediatric patients in the ED at OTMH.

Given to children over the age of 3, the gift bags include a friendly doll (decorated by Bhella), activity books, colouring pages, crayons, stickers and snacks.

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Bhella is hoping they help make a connection and be a positive distraction for the Oakville hospital’s youngest patients.

A gift that will help create an avenue for healthcare providers to build trust and foster therapeutic relationships with their youngest patients.

“My hope is that these Sunshine Bags create a positive association with the hospital – the hospital doesn’t have to be a scary place,” said Bhella. “Yes, you may be here because you’re not feeling well, but it’s not a scary place to be if you’re safe.

“We’ve got you – if we can make it a positive experience then maybe that sets them up for a better experience the next time.”

The idea for the special bags came to the nurse when she saw how nervous her own family member was during a recent visit to the ED.

Her nephew was a toddler at the time when he was visiting the Oakville hospital.

“Unwell, and terrified by the large equipment and unfamiliar noises, I could see him become more fearful as our visit went on,” recalled Bhella, who has worked in the ED at the hospital since June of 2020. ” It dawned on me

that if I had something he was familiar with, it could help him be at ease, associate the visit with positivity and form a connection.

“That is where my early childhood educator experience played a major role and the notion of a bag that had age-appropriate familiar items to help pediatric patients came about.”

Bhella’s connection with the local hospital goes back to the old OTMH building on Trafalgar Rd. when she was just 16 years old and volunteered in the Maternity Unit.

“This inspired me to pursue a career in pediatric nursing, so I initially pursued education in Early Childhood Education (ECE),” she said. “It was the core elements I learned through ECE which enabled me to become a Registered Nurse (RN) in 2020.”

As for how she decided what items to place in the Sunshine Bag, Bhella explained the idea is tied to her experience with her nephew when they went on family road trips.

“I would assemble a little backpack to keep my nephew comfortable with being on the road – items that would preoccupy and distract him and a stuffed toy for hugs,” she said.

The Sunshine Bag supports healthcare providers in being able to foster a therapeutic environment with paediatric patients and their parents and guardians, by bringing comfort and a sense of safety and care.

Bhella has also put her own touch on the dolls included in the Sunshine Bags. Through the Oakville Hospital Foundation, the ED received a generous number of dolls which are used to teach paediatric patients about various surgical procedures.

“I have been adding character to these dolls, like different hair colours and facial expressions and I turn them into their own little person that is child-friendly,” said Bhella.  Along with the doll, through Halton Healthcare’s Child Life Specialist, the bags include crayons, stickers, and activity pages.

These items can be a positive distraction and support kids in focusing their energy in a creative way.

Bhella receives help putting together the Sunshine Bags from a group of ED staff members that calls themselves “The Lifesavers Group.”

The group pools its money and do fundraisers to help purchase the items for the bags, as well as support different causes.

She hopes members of the community can also reach out to support the initiative.

“The Lifesavers have been generously supporting the Sunshine Bags. I’m grateful to work with incredibly passionate people every day, who inspire and encourage you to bring your best,” said Bhella.

“If there is anyone who would like to support the Sunshine Bags, either with funds or items, that would be so wonderful – thank you!”

Donations can be made to the Oakville Hospital Foundation at www.oakvillehospitalfoundation.com or by calling 905-338-4642.

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