When I was a month old I was diagnosed with a birth defect. My major pectoral muscle is missing, along with one and a half of my ribs, one third of my shoulder blade and lung, and most of the muscle in my arm, all on my right side. It's the same thing as when a kid is born with only a stubb where his arm should be. I'm really lucky. At about six years old I was accepted into the program at Shriner's Hospital for Children in Los Angeles. It's this free hospital for kids with birth defects.
It was kind of a hassle getting up there since I lived six hours away on a day with no traffic. We'd have to pack up my younger siblings for the trip and my mom would end up driving 7 or 8 hours with three whiny kids.
One year a woman came up to us in the hospital and asked who the patient was. When my mom said it was me she handed me a stuffed animal but ignored my brother and sister. I thought it was nice of her to give me the animal but thought that my siblings should have gotten one also, since they were affected by the hospital visits also. So the next time we went up I loaded up the car with teddy bears and passed them out to as many kids as I could, patients and siblings alike.
Eventually I started bringing Beanie Babies since I can get them for a good price and it's easy to bring a lot in a small car. I'm trying to obtain non-profit status, because it's getting hard to pay for all those Beanie Babies when I'm bring 1,000-plus each visit and going two or three times a year. This year I brought about 2,000.
It's definitely worth it, seeing the faces of little children light up. A hospital is a scary place to a lot of kids, and a stuffed animal helps them feel more secure. When a child is going in for surgery, a Beanie Baby gives them something to hug and receive comfort from. Mothers will hold the animal while waiting anxiously outside the operating room, and first thing after surgery, when a child is confused and in pain, he holds the Beanie Baby tight and cries and talks to it.
I also hand them out to older children, up to 18 years old. Even the most hardened teenager will break down their defenses and play with a Beanie Baby if they have the chance. The nurses all love them too. They call me the Beanie Baby girl and look forward to my visits, when they line the animals on their desks to hand out to patients. (And play with themselves.) And I'll say, it's neat to see a stern head nurse start cuddling a stuffed animal.
Best of all, even when I can't understand the Spanish speaking patients, I can communicate with them, through smiles and small gestures of kindness.