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Focused on Healing, Distracted by Fun

Portable video gaming units roll into Children's Hospital Central California


Patients at Children's Hospital Central California didn't have to wait until Christmas to receive a special delivery. Just in time to spread a little holiday cheer, the Starlight Children’s Foundation delivered two bundles of fun on wheels.

Video Game UnveilingSave Mart, Nestlé and California Pizza Kitchen frozen pizza products generously donated the Fun Center mobile entertainment units, which feature a Nintendo Wii with built-in games, a DVD player and a flat-screen television.

“Video games do get a bad reputation, but they can be a therapeutic tool for kids to get better,” said Mary Beth Jones, Child Life supervisor at Children’s. “It provides an opportunity for kids to take their minds off what’s going on in their lives,” she said.

Jones cited reports demonstrating patients felt less pain while gaming. “We have cancer patients tell us they don’t need as much nausea medication,” said Jones.

Nestlé obtained rights from California Pizza Kitchen owners to distribute their frozen pizzas. They partnered with Save Mart to raise money for the Fun Centers through frozen pizza sales at Save Mart and Lucky supermarkets throughout Northern California.

“Save Mart helped drive sales to support the gift,” said Gene A. Lehnick, account manager of the pizza division for Nestlé.

Together Save Mart, Nestlé and California Pizza Kitchen frozen pizzas raised $50,000 to purchase a total of 10 Fun Centers.

Video game units unveiled“We knew we wanted to give to the children,” said Lehnick. The contributors chose five children’s hospitals in Northern California to receive two of the mobile entertainment units each. “Because I’ve lived in Tulare for 30 years, I knew this hospital had to be one of them. I advocated for that,” said Lehnick. He smiled and continued, “You can’t have Save Mart involved without Children’s.”

John Stone, center store supervisor, district 7 for Save Mart, felt the same way. Several store managers from throughout the region attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Children’s this morning. Katie Kidder, development coordinator for the Foundation, introduced him after acknowledging her surprise upon hearing of the gift. “We didn’t even know. What a wonderful surprise,” she said. Kidder publically thanked Lehnick, Stone and other representatives from Save Mart, and acknowledged their generosity in donating the Fun Centers to five different children’s hospitals in Northern California. “We were lucky enough to receive two of them today,” she said.

Patients play with gaming unitThe patients who attended the ceremony anxiously waited until the moment Kidder and others removed the white drapes and revealed the Fun Centers. The big red bows tied around them came off quickly and the children began to play.

Nearly a dozen similar portable gaming units have rolled through the Hospital’s halls over the years, each boasting the latest in gaming technology. Jones especially likes the new Nintendo equipment because of the mobility required to play Wii games. “Our kids with diabetes need to get up and move,” she said.

Jones is grateful for the gaming units, especially this time of year. “We have more patients in isolation. They can’t leave their rooms,” said Jones. When oncology patients’ white counts are too low, they can’t risk infection. “The video game lets them go to another place when they’re in their rooms,” she said.

One of the new Fun Centers will be used by patients on the ground floor. The other will stay on level one. The units will also entertain children awaiting surgery or undergoing a long treatment. They will move around based on patient need, and according to Jones, that need is great.

Fortunately Starlight Children’s Foundation is working hard to meet that need. For more than 25 years, Starlight’s network of chapters and offices has provided support to patient families through entertainment, education and family activities. Their Fun Centers help seriously ill and injured children cope with pain, fear and isolation. Children's Hospital Central California has benefited greatly from the partnership Starlight forged with Nestlé, California Pizza Kitchen frozen pizzas and Save Mart. Because of their hard work and generosity, we can focus on our patients’ healing while they are distracted by endless hours of fun.