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Dr. Bear Helps Make Hospital Experience Fun for Pediatric Patients

“Paging Dr. Bear! Dr. Bear to Pediatric GI Unit.” This call may not be out of the ordinary until you realize that Dr. Bear is, in fact, an NYU Winthrop Hospital teddy bear. His job is ‘working’ in the pediatric endoscopy/colonoscopy suite with young patients arriving for diagnostic GI procedures.

For several weeks this past spring, the unit was transformed into a COVID unit, treating patients affected by the current pandemic. Once the number of cases had diminished, the unit was thoroughly cleaned and sanitized in order to welcome back pediatric patients into its care. Dr. Tuvia Marciano and the nurses in the unit worked tirelessly to make sure everything was safe and child-friendly before the unit was deemed ready.

One of the first patients was a 4-year-old who came with his father while his mother, who was pregnant, remained home. Too small for a standard size mask, he needed a child-sized one. Nurses found one for him, and presented a gift to him from the gift shop to help him focus on something happy instead of his procedure. Realizing that every patient would need a child-size mask, the nurses reached out to the Michael Magro Foundation for help. The Foundation responded by underwriting the cost of a year’s supply of bears and masks for the unit. Terrie Magro, Co-Founder and Vice President of the Foundation stated, “We just adore these teddy bears. They are friendly and comforting to the young patients coming in for procedures. Coming to the hospital is scary for little ones. Coming in during a pandemic is frightening for the parents. We’re happy to provide each child in the unit with a bear and a mask to help reduce anxiety and make the experience a happier one.”

Regina Rattinger, a nurse on the unit, noted that the children’s well-being is a top priority. “It’s so important that the children feel how deeply we care about them. It helps them to relax and have an easier time with the procedure. A small gift, like their very own Dr. Bear, makes them feel special – important.” She went on to note that while the bears are designed for the younger patients, “the older kids like them too. When we have an older child who is clearly experiencing anxiety, we make sure he or she gets a bear as well”.  The team noted that, with the addition of the bears, children are calmer and happier with the experience. Parents report a more positive experience overall. Magro noted, “We’ve provided Dr. Bear to other units and have been thrilled with the reports we get from the staff. Shifting a child’s attention from needles and medical equipment to a plush bear can make all the difference in the world. We are so happy to make this program possible for the patients in the pediatric gastro-enterology department.”

Each bear wears an NYU Langone Health T-shirt and colorful face mask, and comes with a matching mask for his human friend, along with a note about safety as the top priority at NYU Winthrop. It is anticipated that more than 750 Dr. Bear friends will go home with children from this unit over the course of the year.

Michael Magro Foundation is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization founded by Paul and Terrie Magro to honor the life of their son Michael, who passed away from leukemia at the age of 13. The Foundation works with the Cancer Center for Kids at Winthrop-University Hospital, Stony Brook Children’s Cancer Division, and other Winthrop and Stony Brook pediatric specialties where treatment of chronic diseases is ongoing, as well as with the Golisano Children’s Hospital in Southwest Florida. The core programs offered are: Life Essentials [helping families struggling financially during their child’s treatment with non-medical expenses]; Project SOAR [providing support for childhood cancer patients, families, students and teachers when the patient returns to school following long illnesses]; and Bonding With Baby [helping siblings of babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) communicate and bond].  In partnership with The Spencer Foundation, the organization created Operation Playcation, an initiative to provide inpatient pediatric hospital patients with Playstation 4 units and an array of gaming choices.