Light sabers light up children’s ward

Fionnuala Walsh

Credit: Fionnuala Walsh Storm troopers and Batman bringing a smile to sick kids at Crumlin.

<dropcap>T</dropcap>he capacity to show kindness is perhaps what defines goodness: for one young man who battled brain cancer, this capacity allows him to give back to the hospital ward that treated him in a novel way.

Dylan Smith Bresnahan was a brain cancer patient at St. John’s children’s ward in Crumlin hospital and he uses his Jedi costume and his love of Star Wars to bring a little cheer to patients in the ward. 

“When I was in the ward myself I just got very bored, I always wanted someone to come in and do something,” said Dylan. “Occasionally someone would come in and do something and I thought it was very good. I just thought it would be nice to do something like that.”

Dylan was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a form of brain tumour, in 2012. He finished treatment a year later and is still under the supervision of Crumlin.

The Emerald Garrison is a Star Wars costuming club who began visiting Crumlin hospital in 2014.

“It was kind of my idea,” he says of the project. “I went to the conventions that the Emerald Garrison ran since I was a little kid, so we were friends with a couple of them and they said they’d do it and that I could go in as well.”

Dylan’s mum Gillian explains how it totally changes the atmosphere on the ward – she too dresses up.

“Adults as well, when the storm-troopers come in it’s amazing, the doctors, the parents everybody stops and does a double take and take photos and selfies,” she said. “The adults are as bad as the kids sometimes you know.”

According to Gillian the visits make a huge difference in the life of a child in a ward.

“The last visit, there was a little girl who was about two and a half. She came right in and was looking up at Batman, who’s over six foot in his costume,” she said.

“She was a tiny little thing hooked up to her chemo, but she came right into the playroom looking right up at Batman no fear. She was just totally mesmerised looking up at him and then had a little chat with him, she was just so excited to see these people in the ward.”

Gillian says its great to see kids come out of their rooms when the garrison arrives. “They all have individual rooms now which is great for infection but it can be quite isolated. Being in treatment for cancer for kids can be quite isolating because they can’t go to school, there’s lots of things they cant do.”

“When these guys come in they come out of their rooms and down to the play room. They try and engage with them, they might hold their light-sabers hold the guns, and mess around,” Gillian says.

“It totally takes them away from the hospital vibe and the hospital sickness and all that for the couple of hours that we’re there.”

She recalls a little boy from Donegal, who was making a one day trip for an anaesthetic.

“He was miserable and his mam brought him over to see the lads in costume and it totally brightened him up,” Gillian reflects.

“His attitude for the day was changed, he was able to go home and tell his brothers and sisters that he saw storm-troopers in the hospital and that he saw batman. He could have a good story to tell rather than an injection or he had treatment or whatever. It changes the atmosphere completely.”

The Emerald Garrison are the official charity partners of the Childhood Cancer foundation, of which Gillian is a founding member.

“It was started by parents, and it helps people dealing with cancer in children because we saw there was a need for it, there was no such charity for like-minded parents. There were a couple of us involved in it, we went through treatments together so we set this up,” said Gillian.

Jessica Murphy, another member says that they’re “just like big kids dressing up for Halloween”.

“I like going in and seeing the kids and seeing how courageous and happy some of them are even though they’re going through what they are going through,” said Murphy. “You see some amazing children and you meet amazing characters and they just stay with you.”

“They come over to you, giving you big hugs and tugging at whatever props you have with you. It’s just something different for them, especially if they’re in the hospital and they’re waiting for treatment. I’d say it can be very, very boring for them and it’s nice to make a little difference to their whole view of the hospital and about being there sick,” she said.

She notes how it helps her appreciate her own children: “I see they’re not sick and I feel lucky,” she says “Hopefully if they were sick someone could come in and make an hour or two for them to feel a bit better.”