Los Angeles,
06:49 AM

A Happy Halloween Comes to Cedars-Sinai

The Medical Center's Tiniest Patients, Cutest Volunteers and Pediatrics Staff Celebrate in Costume, Bringing Seasonal Cheer to All

Patients in the Cedars-Sinai Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), staff in the Pediatrics Department and dogs from the Barbara Cowen POOCH Volunteer Program are dressed up for a happy Halloween this year.

The medical center's smallest patients continue a 23-year NICU tradition, sporting unique costumes hand-sewn by volunteers, parents, current and former NICU staff, and even some NICU graduates.

"It has been a challenging time for all, and these families are so happy for a chance to dress up their little ones and celebrate," said Bevin Merideth, RN, an assistant nurse manager in the NICU. "And these tiny babies are adorable in their cuddly costumes."

Creation of the costumes, each paired with a children's book, is organized by Dorothy Williams, a former Cedars-Sinai employee. They are specially designed to open flat like a blanket and wrap around the babies, with Velcro and ties to accommodate medical tubes.

"For parents, Halloween gives them a break in the routine of going to the hospital, where all of your focus is on medical things and in the intensity of visiting a baby who may be very fragile at that point," said Williams, who was once a NICU mom. "And it's a day that becomes one of pleasure, even if it's for a few minutes of putting on a costume and taking a picture."

Williams makes sure there are 50 costumes available, with options for babies of every size. New this year are the spotted animal from Put Me in the Zoo, by Robert Lopshire, and the colorful patchwork elephant from the Elmer books by David McKee.

Nadja and Brendan Helstein chose a bunny costume for their daughter, Blake, paired with the book Guess How Much I Love You, by Sam McBratney, "because she's my little Bunny," Nadja said.

Nadja is excited to celebrate her favorite holiday by dressing up Blake. "It will be her favorite holiday, too," she said. "She wasn't supposed to be here quite yet, so this is kind of a bonus celebration."

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In the Pediatrics Unit

Over in the Pediatrics Unit, staff are turning the tables on the season with Fall-o-Ween reverse trick-or-treating, dressing up to deliver treat bags with non-edible goodies donated by staff to pediatric and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit patients. Those patients also serve as judges of a staff costume contest packed with Super Mario Brothers characters, Disney princesses, and the "Mask-A-Teers."

"Celebrating special events like birthdays and holidays helps keep patients and families from feeling like they're missing out," said Child Life Services Coordinator Sandie Sternberg, adding that the festivities also give staff a boost. "Our jobs in healthcare are hard, particularly the past 20 months, so having celebrations and sharing smiles with patients, families and each other helps everyone feel a bit lighter."

Volunteer Dogs Dress Up

Also lightening the mood at the medical center: A brigade of five canine volunteers (and their humans) hosted an outdoor, costumed meet-and-greet with photo ops on the medical campus plaza. Among them are Amy Feldman and Stuey, a large Bernedoodle dressed as a doctor. "They don't make many costumes for very large dogs," Feldman said. "We ordered five different pairs of scrubs before we found some that would fit." Joining Feldman and Stuey are two poodles, an English Labrador and a Maremma sheepdog dressed as a basketball player.

After almost two years when the dogs have not been able to visit patient rooms because of COVID-19 safety measures, Feldman relished this chance to celebrate a happy day. "People light up seeing the dogs," she said. "This brings a sense of normalcy and joy, and I wanted to be part of that."