Going in for surgery, no matter how routine, is a stressful experience for adults. It’s even more traumatic for children. They’re scared and feeling alone in an unfamiliar place.
Phyllis Sit sees it all the time. As chief nurse anesthetist at John H. Stroger Hospital, she often finds herself caring for children undergoing surgery. Hoping to give them a bit of cheer during a stressful time, she began collecting toys to distribute to the sick children.
At this time of the year, countless organizations collect toys to give as Christmas presents to needy boys and girls. From the Marines’ Toys for Tots collection to the giving tree at the local shopping mall, it’s easy to find a place to donate toys during the holidays. The difference is that Sit collects toys year-round for kids who find themselves sick and scared any time of the year.
She has been working at Stroger, formerly Cook County Hospital, for 20 years and has been distributing donated toys for the last nine. It started as a community project for Central Elementary School Parent-Teacher Association in Riverside. The PTA still is her biggest supporter.
Many of the children at Stroger are low-income. Some are wards of the state, so they face surgery without a mom or dad at their side. The kids’ “faces just light up” when they see the toys, Sit says. “The first thing they want to know is: Is this theirs? And can they take it home?”
Lauren Giurato, who helps children at Children’s Memorial Hospital cope with their hospital stay, agrees that a new toy can help ease a child’s fear at a hospital. “I think that having something to hug, to know is theirs, really helps,” Giurato says.
Sit originally accepted donations of any toy—from stuffed animals to hand-held electronic games. But sterility concerns now require that she distribute only stuffed animals, preferably new ones, although she will accept used dolls that have been washed. It’s extra special when the child donating the animal adds a note about the toy, she says. “The kids love that, when there’s a note that says ‘Sammy was mine for so many years.’ ”
Sit saves the best toys for the sickest children. That’s why she handed an American Girl doll to a girl undergoing surgery for cancer. The girl did not have a mother, so her aunt was with her, but her plight touched the operating room team. The American Girl doll made the girl so happy she began to cry, prompting everyone in the operating room to cry, too, Sit says.
Stuffed animals may be dropped off at the Riverside Presbyterian Church, 116 Berrypoint Rd., Riverside.