Juggling Act: Brightening sick kids' lives, one flashlight beam at a time

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News
People shine lights outside the children's wing of Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak for Moonbeams for Sweet Dreams last December.

Mike Williams is 50 but still remembers how he felt as a frightened four-year-old, recovering at Beaumont Hospital for weeks after he suffered a head injury.

"My family would come and then they’d leave and I’d be freaking out and scared," said Williams who lives in Berkley.

No wonder why Williams jumped at the chance to make kids sick in the hospital feel a little less lonely during the holidays. Williams plans to bring about 100 people, all armed with flashlights, to Beaumont's Moonbeams for Sweet Dreams program this month and infuse sick kids' windows and lives, albeit briefly, with a little light.

"This will help calm the fears and trauma of the children being away from home, and help them go to sleep with a smile on their face," said Williams.

Every night through the entire month of December, volunteers will shine flashlights from an area on the hospital's Royal Oak campus near the East Tower by the Medical Office Building on 13 Mile into rooms in the Children's Hospital. 

Being in the hospital can be isolating so it's about creating a connection, said Amanda Lefkof, a child life specialist with Beaumont Children's Hospital.

"When you’re in the hospital, you feel lonely and isolated, especially around the holidays," said Lefkof. "You’re disconnected."

Shining a flashlight for 10 minutes "is so simple," she said.

Moonbeams is the brainchild of a member of Beaumont's family advisory council. Piloted last year, Lefkof said they struggled to get the word out and worried they may even have to recruit their own families to come shine flashlights.

But it never came to that. As many as 100 to 200 people turned out each night in December last year.

"We were amazed and so excited about that," said Lefkof.

This year, crowds are six times that number. They've had 700, 900, even 1,100 people turning out on certain nights. And first responders have been coming nearly every night with their police and fire trucks to also spread a little holiday cheer.

And the crowds "are happy to be out there," said Lefkof. "It’s freezing and cold and rainy and they’re happy."

Inside the hospital, patients and parents seem just as thrilled. Lefkof said one little girl saw the flashlights from her room and asked her mom, "All these people are here to say goodnight to me?"

"We’ve just had countless stories from families of how it’s brightened their day," said Lefkof.

My son spent three months in the neonatal intensive care unit at Beaumont, including Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I can still hear the silent hum of monitors, whirl of ventilators and ding of alarms going off.

There are two worlds when you have a sick child in the hospital: the real world and the hospital world. And the real world feels very far away.

Moonbeams is a simple way to bridge that gap during the holidays and remind people they aren't alone, even for a brief moment. Lefkof said they're still looking for volunteers for the week between Christmas and New Year's. Volunteers are asked to show up between 7:40 and 7:45 p.m. to allow time for parking. And those coming with big groups are asked to pre-register on the hospital's website. 

Lefkof says they contemplated paring the program down to two weeks this year, but "the community response was 'Nope,'" she says with a laugh.

"We're so indebted to the community and the support they've shown," she said.