Euphrat grants young patients' Little Wishes

Sunday, March 9, 2008

She sings, she dances, and she provides gifts to ease the pain, suffering and fears of chronically ill children. Five years ago, Laura Euphrat, a pediatric nurse at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, and Joanne Davantes, a fellow nurse, founded Little Wishes, a nonprofit organization that grants immediate and ongoing wishes to hospitalized children.

Since its inception, the program has fulfilled the desires of more than 3,000 children. Little Wishes are simple: a sushi dinner, a pair of decorated sneakers, a room decorated with a Superman motif, a bubblemaker or a baby swing for an infant. Any child who has been in the hospital for more than seven days can make a wish. The unique aspect of this program is that children can make a new wish every 14 days after receiving their first wish, and this gives them something to look forward to during their hospitalization.

"I ask the child what their passion is," said Euphrat, an 18-year veteran of pediatric nursing and a married mother of two preteens. "Children's passions change. For a lot of our chronically ill kids with cystic fibrosis or cancer, as they grow older, they can wish for different things. One year it might be art, the next year it might be music and the next year it might change. My favorite wishes are when they ask for things like butterflies. You get to go out and shop for all different types of butterflies. The search is fun - you can be creative."

Little Wishes has a 13-member board, of which Euphrat is president and Davantes vice president. To work its magic, the organization relies on several volunteer shoppers and receives monetary donations from the community. The spending limit for Little Wishes is $150.

On the day of the interview, Euphrat and nurse Rachel Cerami surprise 17-year-old Joey Bordi, who has been in pediatric unit for three weeks. First, they sing the Little Wishes theme song, which Euphrat, who studied musical theater in college before earning her nursing degree from the University of San Francisco, wrote to the tune of Pat Ballard's "Mr. Sandman."

The Little Wishes song

"Little wishes, presents for you

To make your stay here less gloomy and blue

You make a wish, we make it come true

'Cause Little Wishes is here for you!"

The nurses present Joey with a digital camera, which he hopes to use to photograph his friends at parties when he is released from the hospital.

"All of our wishes take place in the hospital, with the purpose of bringing comfort," said Euphrat. "We don't do trips, we don't give gift certificates or grant wishes that take place out of the hospital. We don't do celebrity wishes or beauty makeovers. Some of the teenage girls will wish for makeup, but we get them the makeup and the nurses will help them put it on.

"Normally, when you're in the hospital, it can be isolating. A lot of the kids can't leave their rooms. It can become really boring. There are things that you can distract them with, but it gets kind of limited. The beauty is that when they make a wish, a lot of times, we'll be able to provide them with a DVD player or a DVD to watch, or an iPod. It keeps their mind off of being in the hospital."

The concept of Little Wishes was inspired by an 8-year-old named Josh, who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of liver cancer. Because of his illness, Josh's abdomen was enlarged, which made him very uncomfortable. His stay at CPMC went from days to weeks, and then to months. Since Josh was a big San Francisco Giants fan, Euphrat and the staff decorated his room with Giants pendants and watched the playoffs with him when the Giants made it to the World Series in 2002. Euphrat had formed a close bond with Josh's parents and shared the idea of the Little Wishes program with them.

"We all came to the conclusion, when he passed away, that we would make donations in Josh's memory to Little Wishes," said Euphrat. "The first check came in the mail, and it was for $25. I just happened to have this really great group of talented friends. One was a grant writer, and my next-door neighbor was a high-powered person in finance at City Corp. We formed a board and we got a 501(c)(3)."

Recently, Euphrat and her team introduced the Little Wishes program to Sacred Heart Children's Hospital in Spokane, Wash., and Sutter Hospital in Sacramento, where Millie the Little Wishes dog, a Labrador retriever, brings the gifts to young patients.

"I would love to be able to see the program expand in the Bay Area and beyond," said Euphrat. "When you give a child something, there's a certain magic that you see happening. They become happy, and then the parents really appreciate it and they become happy, and then it reverberates out to the staff. Sometimes you leave work feeling like, 'What more can I do for that person?' "

'Appropriate and pretty'

Seven-month-old Kholwani Sibanda, who has leukemia, has been in the pediatric unit at CPMC since January. His father, Sanelle Sibanda, said Little Wishes has been a great comfort to his son by providing toys that seem to distract him from his pain.

"Laura is great nurse who works hard to make sick children at CPMC feel important and loved," said Sibanda. "The presents she gives are very appropriate and pretty. We hope she continues providing this needed service to sick children."

For information, visit www.littlewishes.org.

 

Each week, The Chronicle features a Bay Area resident who has won a Jefferson Award for making a difference in his or her community. The awards are administered by the American Institute for Public Service, a national foundation that honors community service. Bay Area residents profiled in The Chronicle are also featured on CBS 5-TV and KCBS-AM, which are Jefferson Award media partners, along with The Chronicle.

E-mail Shelah Moody at smoody@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page E - 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle