Meet the team trying to make Boston Children’s Hospital feel like home for the holidays

The hospital’s child life specialists are hard at work to make their patients laugh, grow, and, of course, open lots of presents.

A young patient at Boston Children’s Hospital all dressed up for a visit from Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker bear. —Jean Nagy / Boston.com

They may be getting top-notch medical care, but spending the holidays as a hospital patient isn’t the wish of any child.

Enter the child life team, who are working night and day to make Boston Children’s Hospital as festive and fun as they possibly can.

So far this year, events have included a visit from members of Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker troupe as well as a winter wonderland party.

“I think coming to the hospital is a challenge in itself, but during the holiday season there’s so much they’re missing,’’ said Beth Donegan Driscoll, who heads up the child life program. “We try to bring the outside world into the hospital. We make sure that holidays are celebrated. That’s how we bring normalcy. As a kid, you can’t wait for December to come. The activities at school, and at home. But [our patients] miss all that. They miss seeing Santa at the mall. So we try and think – what will they be missing?’’

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Outside of the holiday season, the 55-member child life team works across the hospital, helping explain medical procedures to young children, distracting patients with games and activities while an IV is inserted, tutoring patients who are missing school, and trying – as much as they can – to create positive memories to balance out the less than positive ones.

“They will remember the treatment and procedures, but they will also remember a special visitor or a special movie or a special activity,’’ Driscoll said.

Members of Boston Ballet interacting with a young patient. —Jean Nagy / Boston.com

While the child life program is focused primarily on the patients, they are also paying close attention to siblings and parents.

During the week leading up to Christmas, a large conference room is converted into a “store,’’ according to Kirsten Getchell, a child life specialist who oversees special events.

Toys are displayed and organized, and parents and guardians of hospital patients are invited to shop for free.

“They can get two or three big garbage bags full of toys,’’ Getchell said. “And then we have a wrapping room next door where the parents can wrap the gifts.’’

A young patient at Boston Children’s Hospital spots Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker bear. —Jean Nagy / Boston.com

To Driscoll, the hospital’s shopping room is “family-centered care at its best.’’

“For parents, part of the joy of the Christmas season is finding that special gift and wrapping it for your child,’’ Driscoll said. “When a parent is here, a lot of times they cannot leave their child, or they don’t want to. So this gives the parent the opportunity to get that special gift.’’

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As for Christmas morning, the hospital lets individual families decide how to celebrate.

“Some parents spread toys around room and child awakes to see that Santa visits,’’ Driscoll said. “We used to have Santa come bring presents on Christmas day, but we realized that’s not how kids think it happens. You’re supposed to wake up after Santa has come.’’

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