Casting With Creativity at Shriners Children's New England
After a fall off his bike, 7-year-old Adrian required two different casts to heal his broken leg. He was in a cast for a total of six weeks and was disappointed to miss his baseball season.
The fracture care team at Shriners Children’s New England used their creativity to help Adrian cope with the experience of wearing a cast. For his first cast, technicians created a striped red and blue design, the colors of his baseball team. On his second cast, child life specialist Annie O’Gorman, CCLS, painted Sonic the Hedgehog, based on his favorite video game character. “It really helped with the sadness he was feeling about not being able to do much,” said Adrian’s mom, Chelsy.
Adrian agreed. “It was a cool cast to be able to show off to my friends,” he said.
Participating in the Process
While Adrian’s Sonic the Hedgehog cast design was one of a kind, the opportunity to have artwork on their cast is something all patients at Shriners Children’s New England receive. It’s an example of the patient-centered care the organization provides every day. Giving young patients the ability to participate in their care, and to wear a cast that reflects their personality, helps them have a more positive experience and recovery.
According to certified athletic trainer Jon Reidy, LAT, ATC, who works with athletes who require casts due to sports-related injuries, making casts a work of art can help distract kids from the disappointment of being sidelined. “It’s a great way to redirect them from what they’ll be missing to something fun and creative,” said Jon. “Involving them in the design also gives them some sense of control over their care, even if it’s a small part.”
When families arrive for a casting appointment for a fracture or another orthopedic condition, Annie greets them and helps them to understand what the process will be like. She engages in medical play with younger patients, lets them feel what a cast is made of and experiment with using those materials on a doll. She explains the casting process to older children, making sure they know what to expect. This helps to ease any fears they may have about the casting process. If a child is still feeling anxious, Annie stays with them for the remainder of the appointment. “The biggest piece of my job is for them to know what is going to happen before it happens,” said Annie. “Any way to make it kid-friendly is going to make it better.”
A Cast of Characters
The final decision on cast art is typically made in the treatment room. “We often get the idea for the design from chatting with them as we prepare to put on their cast, whether we ask about a character on their shirt, what sport they play or what their favorite team is,” Jon said. “Little things like that help get the creative juices flowing.” Popular requests include sports team logos, superheroes and cartoon characters. “I love to draw,” said Annie. “It is a big part of the play I engage in with the patients I see.”
Some patients decide to decorate their casts themselves, or with the help of friends. Annie helps them research designs and determine what supplies they’ll need. She also shares ideas for other activities they can do at home. “It’s important to empower children to draw on their strengths, and help them explore new hobbies while they heal,” said Annie. “I try to provide the tools they need for activities that interest them.”
Another benefit of the artwork Annie creates is the opportunity to talk with patients about their feelings about having a cast. “It is important to validate a child’s feelings of disappointment about needing a cast,” said Annie. “We try to lift their spirits, and help them understand that when bad things happen there are things we can do to make them better. Research shows that children who have less stress heal faster.”
Adrian’s grandmother, Linette, acknowledged how the team at Shriners Children’s New England helped her family successfully navigate a difficult experience. “Everyone involved was amazing,” she said. “They made this situation the best it could be.”
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