Above: 6-year-old Ridhisha Singh and Karen Weir, Child Life Therapist in the ‘Engaging Cardiac Kids Through Play’ program.
The prospect of open-heart surgery would be daunting for anyone, but for kids like six-year-old Ridhisha Singh, the unknowns can be overwhelming.
In May last year a paediatrician picked up a murmur in Ridhisha’s heart.
“We were informed that Ridhisha had an atrial septal defect,” said mum Ruchika, “which is essentially a hole in her heart… It took us by surprise and we were really shocked, and things got a bit crazy at home with the new diagnosis because it meant surgery [was needed] to repair that hole.”
After her diagnosis, Ridhisha became one of the first patients to experience the new ‘Engaging Cardiac Kids Through Play’ program at Westmead Children’s Hospital. It’s an innovative play-based therapy helping kids (and their families) to better understand what they’re about to experience in a friendly, age-appropriate way. The program is reducing the levels of pre-operation anxiety in kids, using methods like relaxation and imagery, doll-making, books, expressive activities, medical play, and more. The activities are tailored to each child’s developmental, social and emotional needs.
“The support we immediately got from the hospital was phenomenal,” said Ruchika. “[The program] immediately eased some of the anxiety for her… We saw her connect with the therapist and make good friends, and learn a little bit about what was going to happen.”
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To take an incredibly daunting situation and break it down into something manageable for Ridhisha, became invaluable to the family.
“It allowed for Ridhisha to hold a nice big doll, and see the different things that are going to happen in terms of having an ECG, and all the things that would be placed on her,” Ruchika said.
“An ECG would normally be really scary for a child, but because she got to see it through play… it was less confronting when she had to do the real tests.”
“That would normally be really scary for a child, but because she got to see it through play… and see some of the equipment that was going to be used [it was] less confronting when she had to do the real tests.
“Now, Ridhisha is doing really well; she bounced-back really well after surgery, and her response to the surgery is a credit to the therapists and nursing staff and doctors… we’ve noticed big changes in her health, she’s had huge growth spurts and her energy levels have picked up massively.
The Engaging Cardiac Kids Through Play program is funded by IMB Bank Community Foundation. Applications for IMB Bank Community Foundation’s 2020 round of funding for community groups and charities are open until February 28.