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Shriners Children's Boston Patients Thrive as Members of Team Brave

Team Brave members in front of the Boston Duck Tour Boat.

Shriners Children’s Boston and the Boston Firefighters Burn Foundation (BFFBF) have a long history of teaming up to support pediatric burn patients and their families. The partnership strengthened in 2014, when a community-based therapeutic program designed by hospital child life staff was launched. Named Team Brave, this innovative program brings patients outside the walls of Shriners Children’s Boston to explore new activities, building strength and self-esteem alongside peers who have also experienced a traumatic burn injury. The clinicians and Boston firefighters who accompany patients work together to create a fun, supportive environment that greatly benefits their physical and emotional recovery.

A History of Partnership

Team Brave is generously funded by the BFFBF, formed in 2001 by a group of local firefighters who wanted to do more to help burn survivors. “We had the discussion in the firehouse kitchen after a series of house fires happened across the city,” recalled Steve Turley, a Boston firefighter and founding member of the BFFBF. “We went to the union hall and agreed to start the foundation, then passed the hat to members of the local 718 for donations to get it started."

Soon after it was established, the first Christmas in July came to Shriners Children’s Boston. A collaboration between the hospital’s child life team and the BFFBF, this annual event features the arrival of Santa, Mrs. Claus and their elves, all Boston firefighters, on a Boston Fire Department ladder truck. Patients visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, receive gifts and are treated to other special surprises. When the idea for Team Brave was later proposed by the child life team, the BFFBF immediately stepped up to fund the initiative and volunteer.

“Patients know that firefighters are a safe group of individuals, after meeting them at school or in their communities,” said Lori Turgeon, PT, D.P.T., director of therapeutic services at Shriners Children’s Boston. “The Team Brave firefighters aren’t staring at their scars or asking awkward questions, and they can help children manage if people out in public do that. They see the children as we see them.”

Team Brave outings happen once a month. Participants enjoy activities such as yoga, painting, bowling, indoor mini golf, cooking lessons, visits to the aquarium and duck boat tours. After spending so much time in the hospital setting, it is an opportunity for patients to gain independence while improving their physical endurance and learning new skills. It’s also a time to simply have fun with friends.

Although firefighters are often seen as brave and heroic figures in the community, we feel it pales in comparison to the bravery of pediatric burn patients.
Steve Turley, Boston firefighter

The Power of Teamwork

The Shriners Children’s Boston child life team and the BFFBF board established Team Brave’s name and motto, “Engage, Encourage, Empower,” before their inaugural trip. “We knew there needed to be a focus on the theme of teamwork when we chose the name,” said Steve. “Although firefighters are often seen as brave and heroic figures in the community, we feel it pales in comparison to the bravery of pediatric burn patients. We are humbled by the children and consider them to be heroes.”

A BFFBF board member is assigned to each Team Brave outing, and they are tasked with recruiting the appropriate number of firefighters to assist. “They know the routine, how to pair up volunteers and oversee the whole group,” said Rebecca Wildes, MS, CCLS, Shriners Children’s Boston lead child life specialist and Team Brave head coach.

No team is complete without a uniform, so participating firefighters and patients are given matching T-shirts with the Team Brave logo and motto. A team captain is also chosen. “We foster leadership in our teen patients by designating a team captain for each trip,” said Rebecca. “They are in charge of welcoming younger children on the bus, explaining the team rules, and encouraging everyone to participate if they are shy at first. Despite the different ages, everyone blends together and soon they begin talking about their injuries and their experience at Shriners Children’s Boston.”

Participating in Team Brave is impactful not only for patients, but also for their families and care team. Caregivers have an opportunity to bond with one another, sometimes going shopping or taking a walk while they wait for the bus to return. “When families first enter the hospital, they are often worried what their child’s outcome might look like,” said Rebecca. “Together we see the patients achieve milestones like walking or dressing themselves for the first time, and it comes full circle when they are able to get on a bus with their peers just like any other child. It is very fulfilling to see that part of their recovery.”

Proven Success

Research conducted by the Shriners Children’s Boston therapeutic services team showed Team Brave’s tremendous impact on its participants. “We found that the changes in kids after participating for the first couple of years were astounding,” said Lori. “They reported more self-confidence and had less anxiety about going out in public, and worried less about wearing clothing that would conceal their scars. They were asking to go out on more Team Brave outings when they came back for follow-up surgery.”

The research also showed that Team Brave had a positive impact on the BFFBF members. Given the nature of their work, helping burn survivors fills firefighters with hope. “The firefighters that participate in Team Brave feel so rewarded, and enjoy seeing patients they know and remember,” said Steve. “It means so much to see patients thrive after burn injuries. Having kids come up to you years later and say thank you is an incredible feeling.”

According to Rebecca, one of the best parts of a Team Brave outing is the ride back to the hospital. “The children are beaming and can’t wait to tell their families all about it,” she said. “We are lucky to work with the BFFBF to provide these experiences, and watch patients form unique connections with peers from other parts of the world. What are the chances that their paths would have crossed otherwise? I find that to be very powerful.”

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