Fear, anxiety and uncertainty can overwhelm parents of children in the hospital.
ParentWISE volunteer Evelyn Arkebauer understands these feelings. Her son experienced significant brain damage at birth. Now 11, he has quadriplegia, but is also a healthy, happy, straight A student, a future no one could have confidently predicted when he was hooked up to a ventilator at birth. What helped this hopeful mother remain steadfast? Knitting.
“Knitting was my lifeline when my son was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU),” says Arkebauer. “It gives you just enough to concentrate on, and it quiets the worry meter, that little tape that runs in the back of your mind with all the thoughts of ‘I should…’ and ’what next…’ and ‘oh, I forgot to...”
A year and half ago, she and ParentWISE staff coordinator Gale Morgan-Williams, launched “Knit Night” at the Janice and Kimberly Brown Family Life Center, a family-friendly medical free zone for children and their families at Children's Memorial.
Connected through art
The art of knitting is a universal language. This statement has resonated with the diverse groups of individuals that participate in the Wednesday night program. Groups have included different ethnicities, and also parents who are deaf. They share the evening together by engaging in a common activity that opens up the door for discussion and stories.
Participants say they never expected to have fun at a hospital, nor do they remember a time when they took into account their own needs. After working on a project, they take away their work, a ball of yarn and needles in a special project bag—a tangible reminder of their new ability and a few hours of relaxation.
The program models Children’s commitment to family-centered care because children benefit as well. “Knitting reduces parents’ stress levels, leaving them better able to care for their child and talk with the medical team,” says Arkebauer.
A bedside knitting program evolved when children showed interested in knitting. Evening volunteer Denise White teaches knitting to long-stay children. “Knitting here has become a team sport,” notes Morgan-Williams. “We’re having fun with it.” Both Family Services and Children’s Services help fund and coordinate the program.
ParentWISE—Parent Wisdom In Shared Experience—is a program that connects trained parent volunteers with the parents of seriously ill children to share personal experiences and offer hope and support. Learn more.
This article was originally published in March 2010. To hear more families tell their stories, visit the multimedia section of our site. To meet more inspiring patients, get the latest news on upcoming events, and more, subscribe to Heroes Update.