Operation Santa Claus

Fun and games to comfort Hong Kong’s sick children

Hospital play specialists look to extend their operation into even more city wards, where they help young patients prepare for treatment

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 November, 2017, 4:52pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2017, 3:14pm

Six-year-old Charlotte Kung Pak-ching is not afraid of going inside the “doughnut tunnel”, because she knows her mother and those friendly women she meets in the hospital will accompany her throughout the process.

Besides, she has some idea now of how the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner – to give it its proper name – really works, and says it is just like taking a photo.

The women at the hospital, dressed in bright colours, point out that the giant scanner sounds like a washing machine, or a vacuum cleaner. There are also drilling sounds that give off a construction-site ambience, but everything is just fine.

Charlotte, who suffered bleeding on the brain in July, is one of many young children who have benefited from the Child-Centred Play Service for Hospitalised Children. The service is provided by Playright Children’s Play Association, a beneficiary of Operation Santa Claus, the annual fundraising campaign from the South China Morning Post and RTHK.

The association aims to help children in hospital prepare psychologically for medical procedures and operations through play.

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The service is available in five public hospitals, including Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin, where Charlotte was treated. But with Operation Santa Claus’ support, Playright plans to extend its service to eight more public hospitals across the city to serve 3,000 children suffering from diseases, abuse or neglect.

Karen Lau Ka-yan, lead hospital play supervisor at Playright, said catering to children’s emotional needs is important when they are physically weak.

“Children staying in hospital could be frightened by its cold environment. We hope to create a stress-free atmosphere to alleviate their fears,” she said.

Lau and other “big sisters”, as Charlotte knows them, decorate the children’s wards and celebrate their birthdays. The play specialists have also customised games and toys to suit different children’s needs.

Apart from creating a child-friendly environment in hospital and meeting children’s basic leisure needs, the association’s staff want the children to understand their illnesses and treatments, and learn to face them head-on.

“Our play specialists designed games that simulate real-life medical treatment. We consulted physicians and other medical professionals to make sure relevant medical concepts could be explained to the children clearly,” Lau said.

In Charlotte’s case, she was given a miniature MRI scanner so she could familiarise herself with the procedure she had to go through.

Wency Lucilia Cheng Fung, Charlotte’s mother, said the little girl had received much-needed help from Playright’s specialists.

“We learned of their service after Charlotte was discharged from the intensive care unit,” she said.

She said her daughter “looked a bit worried at first, but then the big sisters came to play with her and she became happy”.

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The mother said she had been impressed by the group’s efforts to comfort her daughter when she was about to have the MRI scan, which Charlotte had been unable to comprehend.

“[Charlotte] sounded relieved when she knew MRI scanning doesn’t hurt,” the mother said, noting that the girl stayed calm and quiet during the entire process.