Spring break gives kids time off from school to play — at a warm sandy beach or somewhere closer to home. Either way, it’s all about one thing: having fun.
But a springtime getaway can be tricky for young patients at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta who may need to stay close to the hospital in case of an emergency, or for weekly lab visits.
This year, Children’s orchestrated “Seven Days of Spring Break,” to give a handful of patients customized one-day adventures. The activities included hot air balloon rides, a personal cooking lesson from chef Jay Swift of 4th & Swift and a VIP experience at Turner Field complete with a tour of the Braves players’ entrance, meeting Braves players and game tickets (of course).
Even the littlest ones at Children’s enjoyed the sweet sounds of spring with members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performing lullabies outside the NICU in the lobby this week.
The idea for the spring break experiences developed earlier this year after hospital staff helped a 20-year-old aspiring dolphin trainer (who suffered a stroke) spend a day with dolphin trainers at the Georgia Aquarium.
Meg Flynn, social media and content coordinator at Children’s, said from time to time clinical colleagues (social workers, nurses and child life specialists) ask her team to help coordinate something special for a patient needing a pick-me-up.
“With that last aquarium experience fresh in our minds, we thought maybe we could reach out to organizations to see if we could bring spring break to patients who would miss out on this year,” said Flynn.
Businesses and organizations, from the Atlanta Braves to the Soda Salon to Zoo Atlanta, didn’t hesitate in coordinating special experiences — at no cost to Children’s or the families.
Nine-year-old Lance Witt reveled in a day at Legoland Discovery Center at Phipps Plaza.
“Awesome,” said Lance, dressed in a bright yellow shirt. He arrived at Legoland at 3 p.m. and wasn’t planning on leaving until the 7 p.m. closing.
Lance and his mother, Christina Witt, smiled as they got on a ride that looks like magical bikes. Pushing the pedals, their foot power gave them a lift and sent them soaring above the Lego paradise.
Lance, who was born with a heart defect, got a heart transplant in 2009. He is doing well but his mother said they are hesitant about planning trips because there’s a chance Lance may need medical attention. Three weeks ago during a winter break, a virus forced Lance, of Winder, to stay at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for five days.
First introduced to a SpongeBob Lego set while awaiting his transplant, Lance has developed an affinity for Legos.
And for 15-year-old Chad Thomas of Atlanta, there was no question about what would make his spring break perfect: a day at Turner Field. Chad, diagnosed with Addison’s disease as a toddler, has overcome many obstacles. Addison’s causes extreme fatigue, muscle weakness and vomiting. How does the straight-A student fight through his daily struggles?
“The Atlanta Braves,” said his mother, Karen Thomas. “Baseball is his passion. The Braves are not just a team; they are a way of life for Chad. He watches every game … He laughs, cries and cheers with the team.”
So last week, Chad greeted several Braves players during batting practice. Second baseman Dan Uggla took a break to autograph a baseball for Chad and to chat with the teenager. Chad’s mother snapped a photo.
When asked if it was the highlight of his spring break, Karen Thomas laughed.
“The highlight of his spring break?! This is the highlight of the year!”