An emergency clinic can be a scary place to visit, particularly for young children who are not only injured, but find themselves in an unfamiliar place. At times like these, it's all anyone can do - doctors, nurses, parents - to keep children calm and assure them that they're safe. Fortunately, there are others in Summit County with this very thought on their minds and they are taking steps toward a solution.
For the past 13 years, the Summit County Seniors have organized and supported the Hug-A-Bear program. The program buys, packages and donates stuffed teddy bears to local emergency clinics, including at ski areas Breckenridge, Copper and Keystone, as well as the local ambulance service and the Silverthorne police department. The bears are then given out to children who are hurt, scared or traumatized in some way.
"It's pretty much for pediatric patients," said Todd Gaynor, a nurse at the Breckenridge Medical Clinic, who often gives out the teddy bears to upset children. "They come into our clinic, they're scared, they're injured, so to ease their frightenedness, we give them a bear. They seem to calm down a lot."
Just recently, Gaynor gave a bear away to a 6-year-old boy who came in with a severe ear infection. The pain from the infection was causing him to scream continually. To aid his treatment of the boy, Gaynor went into the storage room and brought back a teddy bear, hoping it would distract him. It worked.
"We gave him a bear. He still screamed a little bit, but not as much. It distracted him from his ear pain," Gaynor said.
Often, that's the magic of the bears, giving the children something soft to hold and comforting to look at, distracting them from their injury or medical care like shots.
"It's more of a distraction for them, because then they have something to play with that's soft and fuzzy. I'm soft and fuzzy, but I'm the one coming at them with a needle," Gaynor joked. "It definitely helps distract the kids a lot," Gaynor joked. "It definitely helps distract the kids a lot."
This is exactly what the bears were meant for, said Hug-A-Bear chairwoman Lorie Phalin. "We want them to be able to soothe and calm the nerves of the child."
The bears aren't only meant for injured children, but young ones who have experienced "any type of trauma," Phalin explained. The police in Silverthorne, for example, could give the bears to children who were in car accidents along the interstate, or after responding to calls of violence, disturbances or even fires. The ambulance service, for example, will keep bears inside the ambulance to give out when necessary.
Phalin also said she hopes to eventually expand the Hug-A-Bear program. She'd like to include all of the police departments within the county, as well as possibly the State Patrol and any other first responders.
Currently, she and her two assistants have their hands full, volunteering their time to acquire, prepare and deliver more than 500 teddy bears per year around the county.
Support for buying the bears comes from Breckenridge Grand Vacations, via the Summit Foundation, and the Walmart community giving program. The bears are purchased wholesale from the Ms. Teddy Bear company and delivered in shipments of 200. Phalin and her cohorts - sister and brother-in-law Christy and Glenn Nelson - then spend upward of 20 hours preparing the bears for delivery. This includes fluffing them up from being stuffed in a box and removing the plastic tag and replacing it with the Hug-A-Bear tag. Then Phalin, the Nelsons, or helpful friends drive the bears in bags of 20 to deliver to each of the clinics and services that receive them.
Phalin knows the program is successful, not only because of its longevity, but from the many thank-you cards sent from grateful parents.
Being given the teddy bear "brought our little girl a huge smile and she quickly forgot the whole thing," said one card, of a 19-month-old child needing stitches. "We would like to say 'thank you' as you made a difference in not only a little girl's life, but ours too."
Another card, from a family whose 6-year-old daughter hurt her knee while skiing, stated, "Her spirits were shattered and the only thing that brought a smile to her face was a little brown bear with a beautiful ribbon around his neck. Your thoughtfulness went beyond soothing her pain. You gave her something to cling to and that soothed her soul."
Phalin knows well the joy that a simple teddy bear can bring.
"My father was a big teddy bear fan," she said, remembering when, during one Christmas shopping trip, he found a pile of bears that he couldn't resist. "He bought us all, grown adults, a bear," she said, smiling at the memory.
He also was the one who first placed a plush teddy bear at the top of the Christmas tree, bedecked in ribbons and angel wings. Though it came about for lack of another ornament, now Phalin and her sister do it every Christmas.
"It's been a family tradition for years and years. My sister and I have always put a bear on the top of the tree," she said.
It's no surprise, then, that Phalin is now involved in using teddy bears to spread good feelings.
"I guess it goes in the family," she said with a laugh.
For more information about the Hug-A-Bear program, contact Lorie Phalin at the Summit County Community and Senior Center at (970) 668-2940.