The best medicine
We chat to Warren Prigg, whose daughter, Maisie, has had several visits from Theodora Children’s Charity Giggle Doctors while she was in hospital. He explains how their unique talents made such a difference to Maisie and the whole family
Maisie, 11, has a functional gastrointestinal disorder and gastroesophageal reflux (GOR) – a chronic digestive disorder where the contents of the stomach flow back up into the food pipe, causing various symptoms. For Maisie, this has led to a variety of health problems over the years. “She always had acid reflux as a baby. She practically lived at the GP’s – who would just prescribe Gaviscon – but we didn’t realise anything was seriously wrong.”
When Maisie was three, she woke at 1am one morning choking. “My wife, Sam, and I immediately phoned an ambulance. Thankfully, the choking soon stopped but her temperature was very high at over 40°C.” Maisie was taken to the A&E department of Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. “She was admitted to a day ward to await procedures, including a laryngoscopy – which is the examination of the larynx (voice box) and throat through the insertion of a scope. While she was waiting, they gave her Nurofen and she soon brightened up, much to our relief.
“However, within an hour she just completely went downhill. She was out of it and her temperature rose. She was rushed for an emergency laryngoscopy and hooked up to various drips and a syringe driver to deliver antibiotics, as they thought she had some sort of bacterial infection. I was told by a doctor that I should be prepared that things might not improve.” The laryngoscopy showed Maisie had a small abrasion in her throat. “They didn’t know what had caused it, though they fixated on the idea of a foreign body as the cause of her choking. We had been to the seaside the day before and she had tried the tiniest bit of my fish, and the doctors seemed convinced it must have been a fish bone.”
After a few days in hospital, Maisie started to pick up she was allowed home. “Unfortunately, Maisie had one illness after another and was in and out of hospital with respiratory infections, including pneumonia, bronchitis, croup and laryngitis. Nobody seemed to know what was wrong.”
When Maisie was four, a doctor at Addenbrooke’s Hospital said he thought she might have reflux. “They did an endoscopy – where a long, thin tube is used to look inside the body – which confirmed Maisie had gastroesophageal reflux disease. We were told the reflux was probably responsible for the abrasion in Maisie’s throat.”
Maisie was prescribed omeprazole – a medication that reduces the amount of acid the stomach makes. However, she continued to battle with constant infections. “Maisie has had countless respiratory infections over the years and is constantly taking antibiotics. Every school holiday she seems to come down with an infection and often spends the whole summer in bed. She has had to miss so much school due to illness. It has affected her mentally, as she can’t be like her friends, and they don’t understand. Even as parents, we have felt isolated and judged as people will say, ‘Oh, I’ve got reflux too, I know what it’s like,’ but this is different.
“Maisie has had numerous procedures including three endoscopies, two barium swallows, a laryngoscopy and a CAT scan. She has also been rushed into Resus a couple of times. Last year, she had chronic bacterial bronchitis and was diagnosed with laryngospasm – a spasm of the vocal cords that makes it difficult to speak or breathe – which can be exacerbated by GOR.”
Maisie attends regular appointments at Sheffield Children’s Hospital and is waiting on a few procedures. During her many hospital stays, Maisie has had several visits from Theodora Children’s Charity’s Giggle Doctors – who are professional performers trained to work in hospital environments. “Maisie was first visited by a Giggle Doctor back when she was three. They were telling her jokes and playing a ukulele, and I just remember seeing her face light up. Even though she had still not recovered, it was a breakthrough to see her smile and laugh and it’s a memory we will treasure forever. “Not long after, we went along to the local hospital’s annual garden party at a manor house, and the Giggle Doctors were there. Maisie was a bit better by then and was so excited to see them, she danced with them and had a fantastic time.”
Since then, Maisie has had many visits from the Giggle Doctors as both an inpatient and at clinic appointments – and has even received a Virtual Visit via a video call at home. “It’s been the same Giggle Doctors every time, and she loves that they always remember her. She loves listening to their songs, and they have also played lots of games with her. They lift the atmosphere and make you forget where you are, why you’re there, and remind you what it is like to laugh and smile. They make hospital more bearable for families and a less frightening environment for children.
“Maisie still remembers and talks about her times in hospital from back when she was three, and I know she will never forget what a difference the Giggle Doctors made to her. They gave her something to feel happy and excited about and helped her to have fun even when she was feeling so poorly, and we will always feel so very grateful for that.”
Giggle Doctors’ visits for sick children in hospital
Fundraising target: £84,000
Theodora Children’s Charity is using the money raised in The Candis Big Give to boost the morale of sick, disabled and terminally ill children through regular visits from Giggle Doctors, who are professional performers trained to work in the hospital environment. The money raised will help to fund visits from Giggle Doctors to 6,000 children in hospital, helping to distract them from the pain, worry and fear that can accompany a hospital stay.
While medical staff treat the illness, Giggle Doctors will focus entirely on
the children. They will wear their own colourful ‘doctor’ coats to represent their unique character and spend time one-to-one with the children, creating opportunities for them to play and interact through music, improvisation, magic and storytelling. An impact assessment by the charity with children, parents and NHS staff showed that
100 per cent of parents felt that the Giggle Doctors improved their child’s experience of the hospital environment, and 95 per cent of parents/guardians said that the Giggle Doctors reduced anxiety and stress for their children while in hospital.
The charity has also been providing a digital programme in place of in-person visits during the start of this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This comprises Digital Giggle Doctor Live Visits, which are interactive and tailored to each child and what they need at that time, whether it’s a joke, song or simply companionship; a Giggle Doctor Video Bank – a catalogue of pre-recorded videos of jokes, magic tricks, stories, songs and silly videos; and Giggle-a- Grams, which are personalised Giggle Doctor video messages to children by request of their parent or carer.
Visit uk.theodora.org for details.
What Theodora’ Children’s Charity means to me
David Deanie – aka Dr Bungee – explains why he loves working as one of the Giggle Doctors for Theodora Children’s Charity
“I met Dr Pop in 2008 shortly after graduating and while interviewing for jobs in the corporate world. He was a Giggle Doctor who was in Glasgow Magic Circle with me (an organisation to promote the art of magic) and he told me they were looking for new Giggle Doctors and believed it would be my perfect job. I remember attending the interview and being amazed by how different it was from the ones I had been doing. I was told to take an item from a tray, come back into the room and entertain the interviewers! I realised this was the place for me and what I wanted to be doing – being creative and making people laugh and smile.
While the job may look easy, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye and it takes three years to train. Although laughter can be a big part of our role, sometimes it’s more about just being there and connecting in a different way with someone who is struggling. This could be through puzzles, magic, games, origami, balloon modelling or blowing bubbles. It’s not the sort of job you can go in with something prepared, as it’s all about improvising and bringing something different to each child. Over the 12 years I’ve been a Giggle Doctor, I’ve worked in lots of different hospitals across the UK and it’s an incredible charity to be part of. Just knowing you made someone’s day that little bit brighter is amazing. One of my favourite memories was bumping into someone I had visited eight years ago when they were in hospital and them recognising me and my signature bucket around my leg. To think so many years later someone had remembered me and the difference I made to them was just lovely. It shows the impact the charity has on the children and families it supports.”