Macaulay Townsend with his maskDecorating activity helps young patients find emotional strength during their hospital stays

For many pediatric patients, the hospital can seem like a scary place.

But thanks to an idea sparked by a former patient, along with the Child Life program at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, a group of currently hospitalized young patients recently had an opportunity to simply be kids and forget about treatment for a while.

Inside the Level 12 Press Box of UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, the patients painted “courage masks” to help give them a newfound source of emotional strength during their hospitalizations. Using simple materials—paper plates, markers, glue, scissors, and string—the kids created animal-themed face masks.

The creator of the event, Macaulay Townsend, worked with Child Life to give the patients a fun activity to make their time at the hospital more enjoyable. The activity fit perfectly with the Child Life program’s focus on minimizing the stress and emotional strain of children throughout their hospital experience.

“Though it may have seemed like a simple craft activity, it benefited the kids in many ways,” says Ashley Meyer, a Child Life Assistant at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital. “It provided an atmosphere that allowed them to laugh, be silly, and have fun with their families and fellow patients. By making and wearing the courage masks, the patients were empowered to use their imaginations and step outside of the medical situations. They could embrace the character their masks represented—a fearless lion, a ferocious bear, or a brave superhero, for example.”

Macaulay, now 24, came up with idea based on his own experiences as a pediatric patient at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

"When I was younger, I was terrified of the doctors and nurses with the needles and everything, and Child Life really helped," he says. "They were always there. They brought toys, and music, and they always knew how to make me laugh to keep my mind off of things. Back when I was in the hospital every day, activities were one of the main things that I looked forward to. I just want to give back."

From his past service as a member of the hospital’s Youth Advisory Council to his current collaboration with Child Life, Macaulay has embraced his role in helping make UI Stead Family Children's Hospital a place of comfort, even during rough times.

“My favorite part is interacting with the kids and helping them take their minds off what is going on,” he says.

Macaulay hopes to share the benefits of programs like Child Life to other hospitals in the state and even the nation.

“I want to help kids at hospitals that don't have programs like Child Life," he says. "I'm starting off with the masks of courage, and then I want to find more ideas and more ways to help so every kid can experience what I experienced.”


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