1010 WINS — It was Valentine’s Day with a lot of heart for parents at Duke Children’s Hospital.
Volunteers and staff at Duke Children’s Hospital transformed a playroom into a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner on Monday for parents whose children are in the pediatric bone marrow transplant unit.
“It really has become a staple here,” said Family Support Program Director Tracey Wiwatowski. “What really makes it terrific is that it’s this oasis for our families. We transform the connection room into a space you really would never recognize.”
The event was the first chance in months that Ruben and Tanya Young have had to get dressed up together. The couple were high school sweethearts and have been married almost 32 years. Their 14-year-old daughter Tatiana, who received a bone marrow transplant for sickle cell anemia, has been in the hospital more than 100 days, taking the family away from their home in Hampton, Va.
“I love seeing him in his suit,” said Tanya, who was beaming at her husband Ruben who was wearing a tie and suspenders as they got ready for their Valentine’s Day date.
“Being a preacher, he wanted to save the world,” Tanya said. So after their children had grown up, they decided to become foster parents. They envisioned being guardians for an older child, but soon social services called, telling them there was a newborn baby at the hospital who needed their care.
“We didn’t go into it for adoption, but she stole our hearts,” Tanya said.
Tatiana was tiny, under 5 pounds. Clothes made for preemies were too small so Tanya and her sister scoured toy stores, buying stuffed animals that came with clothes they could use for the little girl.
Tatiana has suffered two strokes and underwent a bone marrow transplant that doctors hope will cure her sickle cell disease.
Like Tatiana, many children in the unit are recovering from bone marrow transplants and other procedures to treat conditions including cancer, and have been hospitalized for months.
Patients must have a parent or relative with them around the clock. Parents might get a short reprieve so they can do simple things like get groceries or do laundry, but otherwise one parent is literally living in the hospital room, sleeping, eating, and for some of them, working and arranging care for other children — all by the child’s bedside.
For more than 10 years, the Duke Children’s Hospital Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Family Support Program and volunteers have organized the Valentine’s dinner to give parents a short break from their roles as caregivers. For one evening, they are taken down the hall to a “romantic restaurant,” while still being just footsteps away from their children, who are also entertained for the hour by volunteers.
Wiwatowski said the purpose of the evening is to have the caregivers feel like they are being treated very special and that they’re getting an opportunity to either socialize and engage with one another, to reconnect and kind of forget where they are – even if only temporarily.
From the smiles on everyone’s faces, we think it worked!