A child in a mask playing on a keyboard
By Chris Ramirez

Gift of Happiness

UNM Children’s Hospital Receives $15,000 Grant for Sensory Toys

The Children’s Hospital Association recently awarded the University of New Mexico Child Life program a $15,000 Toy Foundation grant that will allow the program to purchase sensory items and toys for children who are in UNM Hospital’s care.

Child Life is essentially the playground of UNM Children’s Hospital. It is a dedicated space for children to forget about what hurts and whatever it is that is keeping them hospitalized.

“Being here is the joy of my day,” said patient Meiah Tafoya. “Because sometimes the hospital gets boring, staying in your room a lot.”

Tafoya came to UNM Children’s Hospital after she had an injury at school.

“I was rushing to fourth period,” Tafoya explained.  “There was this little ramp, and I ran down it so that I could get there faster, but then I fell.”

That fall was so severe, doctors had no choice but to amputate her leg.  She’s been at UNM Children’s Hospital learning how to live life with that limb. For Tafoya and so many other kids, Child Life offers fun and play amid the pokes, prods and procedures.

“Here in Child Life, our job is to normalize the hospital experience,” said Child Life director Ana Bacon. “We know that play is the language of children – allowing them to do what they can do to just be a kid. That helps the healing process.”

The funds from the Toy Foundation grant are earmarked to allow Child Life to purchase items for sensory comfort kits.


“I’m hoping those comfort kits allow staff to build rapport with the children immediately and let them know we are here to help,” Bacon said. “Providing something of comfort will allow them to still be a child during a difficult situation.”

The kits contain several useful items, including fidget spinners and stress cushions and other items to reduce anxiety and fear. Some children arrive at UNM Children’s Hospital by helicopter. The roaring engine of a helicopter can often impede communication between a young patient and the medical crew on board.

The sensory comfort kits will include a chart with different emojis expressing different emotions. The flight crew can ask a child to point to the emoji that best describes how he or she is feeling at the moment – a method of non-verbal communication.

“We are the state’s only Level I trauma center, so unfortunately the worst-case scenarios do come to our hospital and we have to support them,” Bacon said. “We need to provide them items of comfort and things to support them while they are on their way here and while they are in our hospital.”

It’s charitable contributions and donations that enable Child Life to purchase these items to give New Mexico’s youngest patients the gift of normalization.

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