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Make-believe that comforts and cheers at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital

As the minutes ticked closer to his surgery, 11-year-old Tymere Patterson got more and more anxious—which made his parents more and more anxious—until suddenly Sleeping Beauty, Belle and Ella swept into his room in all their princess glory.

“The timing was perfect,” said Tymere’s mother, Tara Patterson, who with husband Terry Patterson was trying to ease her son’s fear before surgery for an inguinal hernia at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital. “I don’t think it really hit him about what was going to happen until we were actually in that room, and then he was very nervous—until the princesses showed up.”

The distraction of their visit—even though they were princesses and not Superman—was enough to put a smile on Tymere’s face and help him forget about the butterflies in his stomach.

“They really lightened the mood for all of us,” his mother said. “As a parent, you never want to see your child in the hospital, much less upset about being there. After the princesses left, we were still laughing, and Tymere didn’t talk about being nervous anymore.”

The princesses were actually Penn State College of Medicine students who volunteer with BraveCubs, an organization that brings well-loved characters to life for young patients at the Children’s Hospital. The name honors the bravery of the pediatric patients and is also a nod to the Penn State Nittany Lion.

BraveCubs visit Penn State Health Children's Hospital

Sponsored by the Division of Urology at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, BraveCubs is the first collaborative effort of its kind at a medical school and academic medical center nationally, according to Dr. Amy Burns, pediatric urologist, faculty adviser and founder of the student interest group.

“For a few minutes, the kids can just be kids again. It’s a powerful tool to ease anxiety,” said Burns, who notes another goal is to increase student interest in pediatric fields. “The word ‘brave’ just really resonated with me as I see how strong and brave our pediatric patients are. I just wanted to help bring some magic directly to their bedside.”

The children—whether 2 or 12—seem to forget their fear as they rush up to the costume-clad students, hug them and pepper them with questions about how they got to Hershey from their faraway kingdoms or Metropolis.

Read more about the BraveCubs program in this Penn State Medicine story.

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