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UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital brings Halloween joy to pediatric cancer patients

Renha, a patient at the UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital, holds open a blue bag for a staff member to place gifts in. The hospital hosted its annual Halloween celebration Tuesday, which featured a trick-or-treating path and a guest visit from a Los Angeles Lakers basketball player. (Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Yashila Suresh and Callie Wiesner

Nov. 3, 2023 9:25 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 5 at 10:32 p.m.

The UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital hosted its annual Halloween celebration Tuesday for pediatric cancer patients.

To celebrate the holiday, hospital staff organized activities – including trick-or-treating, a magic show, a haunted house and more – for children in the hospital. Hospital executives and staff members dressed up in different costumes from Barbies to dinosaurs, and, alongside a player from the Los Angeles Lakers, greeted each child as they made their way through an indoor and outdoor trick-or-treating route.

(Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Lucca (center), a patient at the hospital, places gifts into a blue bucket. (Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Kelli Carroll, director of the Chase Child Life Program at UCLA Health and the organizer of the event, said it seeks to provide patients and their families with a sense of normalcy during their hospital stay.

Carroll added that since many of the kids only get to experience what is within the four walls of their hospital room, her goal was to mimic real Halloween celebrations as much as she could.

“We have a whole child life program that looks at … bringing a normal life to the kids who are here with us, some for a very long time,” said Richard Azar, chief operating officer for UCLA Health. “When we have our athletes come in and participate, it opens us so much more for our kids to have (the) Lakers, Dodgers, (and) UCLA football.”

Gabe Vincent, a Lakers player, attended the event on behalf of his team to support the children.

“It means a lot. Any chance we have to give back, I think, is very important,” he said. “These kids are very strong, and they need support just like we do.”

(Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Staff members and members of the Lakers’ dance team offer a gift to Logan (right, with backpack), a patient at the hospital. (Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Johnese Spisso, president of UCLA Health, said the event, which has been a hospital staple for years, allowed patients to bring out their creative side and enjoy the festivities. Patients were able to pick out a costume provided by  Spirit Halloween to wear for the event, she said, adding that she loved seeing how their creativity came to life through characters such as Batman and Wednesday Addams.

Spisso added that the Halloween event is a team effort from staff to corporate partners such as the Lakers and Mattel, which donated sets for the Halloween event. Karen Grimley, chief nursing executive for UCLA Health, said the event is enjoyed not only by the kids but also by staff who are able to participate and dress up.

Danielle Dietz and Leigh Dierck, who are involved with philanthropy and funding at UCLA Health, dressed up as characters from the movie “Frozen” and handed out treats in front of a makeshift Barbie Dreamhouse. Dietz said she felt her participation in creating an environment that allows patients and their families to celebrate together was very rewarding.

(Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Three staff members pose in front of a Barbie-themed set, provided by Mattel as part of the celebration. (Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Carroll added that the best part about the event is allowing the kids to experience being kids.

“If you can give them (families) those moments where they get to see their kiddo be a kid. That’s important,” Carroll said.

The Perez family attended the event with their youngest daughter, Lilo, who is a patient at the hospital. Eder Perez, Lilo’s father, said the event was a great way for his daughter to interact with other kids in a safe and healthy way.

(Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Staff members dressed up as a variety of characters, including Mario and Luigi, stand behind a decorated table as event attendees, including Lilo Perez (right, in stroller), pass by. (Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Norma Perez, Lilo’s mother, said she appreciated the UCLA staff for organizing events like this for her daughter.

“It’s so nice for us just to gather and be able to have fun,” Perez said. “It means so much to us, and obviously to her, because she’s enjoying it so much. Hopefully we’re able to help one day, too.”

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