MADISON, Wis. - As Halloween approaches, a fundraiser is benefiting a program that helps children and their families during what can be one of the scariest experiences.
This time of year, scares are never in short supply. While Spirit Halloween is all about good-spirited frights, the store is helping take away some fear outside the shop. The stores are taking donations to go toward the Spirit of Children, a national program focused on making hospitals less scary for kids and their families.
Halloween's coming up, but a hospital stay can be scary, too.— Madalyn O'Neill (@news3madalyn) October 28, 2019
At Spirit Halloween stores, you can make a donation that will fund the child life program at the American Family Children's Hospital. Specialists work with kids and families to take away some of that fear. @UWHealth pic.twitter.com/5PLOzzmsyr
"It was scary at first," said Jen Linsenmeyer, whose daughter Grace was admitted to the American Family Children's Hospital in early October for a rare condition called Stevens -Johnson syndrome that causes painful rashes.
"I kind of just got a little sick, and then that's what brought us here," said 7-year-old Grace.
"Her whole disease process was quite unexpected," Linsenmeyer said.
Grace had to wear lenses for a week to protect her eyes, but they left her unable to see.
"That added a dimension," said Tara Loether, one of the hospital's child life specialists. "All these people coming in doing different things she couldn't see."
That'd be scary for anyone, but Grace had her helpers, including Loether, who has been a consistent presence for Grace since she was in the emergency room.
"Tara has always helped me during hard things and making a funny face or distraction," Grace said.
Loether helps guide children like Grace when they're adjusting to a new place and routine.
"Pokes or scans can be really scary," Loether said. "We really truly make the hospital less scary to allow kids to be able to cope with it."
Beyond explaining medical jargon, specialists know how to swap fear for fun.
"They distract you with fun games," Grace said.
"Another rewarding part is when a child smiles or laughs and parents say, 'That's the first smile we've seen in weeks!'" Loether said.
The Spirit of Children program will donate proceeds raised to the American Family Children's Hospital's child life program. Loether said they rely on donors to fund the toys and games they use with the children.
"So much of their donations are helping us make Halloween happen here in the hospital," Loether said.
"Child life doesn't just work with children," Linsenmeyer said. "They work with us and ease our minds and made every process so much easier."
Thanks to the program, Grace and her family can plan fearlessly for Halloween and beyond.
"I'm gonna be a fox," Grace said. "Mommy's gonna be a zombie."
"I don't feel like we would have progressed as quickly as we did without child life," Linsenmeyer said.
Staff expected Grace to be able to go home before Halloween.
The fundraiser is ongoing at the four area Spirit stores, including at East Towne and West Towne malls in Madison and locations in Janesville and Beloit.
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