US children's hospital dreaming of a bright Christmas

By Sherie Ryder
BBC News

A giant flashing G sign is held upImage source, Kristin Squires
Image caption,
Graham's family and friends came to the hospital armed with a giant flashing G

There's no doubt that being ill during the holidays can be a miserable experience.

However, children who will be spending Christmas in the Beaumont Hospital in Michigan are being treated to a sparkling light show each night before bed to remind them they're not alone.

Every evening in December, the young patients shine flashlights from their hospital windows as people outside twinkle a variety of lights back at them.

The idea came about in 2016 and has been attracting increasingly bigger crowds each year.

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Kathleen Grobbel, who works at Beaumont in the children's ward, says many children unable to leave their rooms can feel isolated in the hospital, but, with the help of the community, "we can make sure they go to bed with smiles on their faces".

"When we launched moonbeams for sweet dreams the paediatric team weren't sure what the response would be."

They weren't disappointed. At first the crowds weren't huge, but thanks to social media, they've been increasing every year.

'Dancing diamonds'

"It was really touching and powerful. People cried. We thought, wow, we have an amazing community here," said Kathleen.

One snowy year, the team thought no-one would come along but local residents turned up in force. Then a young patient asked oncology nurse, Lisa Mulla, if they were shining lights just for them.

Image source, Beaumont Children's
Image caption,
Smiles all round when the sparkling lights appear just before bed time

"The kids love it. We give them glow sticks or flashlights so they can have the same as people outside," Lisa told the BBC.

Someone on the ground co-ordinates the swaying left to right. "It looks wonderful. The kids mimic it and it's like a form of communication. The crowds shout out, 'Sweet dreams', then the nursing continues and the lights go down."

One little girl described the sight below as "dancing diamonds".

'The other side of the glass'

Kristin Squires' four-and-a-half-year-old son Graham has been spending a few days in the hospital and has enjoyed watching the twinkling lights outside every evening.

Image source, Kristin Squires
Image caption,
Shining his light back down to the crowds is something Graham looks forward to every evening

"Moonbeams has been incredible," says Kristin. "Up until recently, our family has taken part in the light show on the ground - now we're seeing it from the other side of the glass."

Graham, who has a rare, severe form of epilepsy called MAE, is seeing neurologists and dietitians to try to sort out out his seizures, which is not fun for anyone. But Kristin appreciates the huge efforts the hospital has made to keep him and the other children occupied.

Armed with a bag of tricks to entertain her son, Kristin told the BBC she didn't use any of them due to the jam-packed playroom, music therapy and meditation classes.

"The hospital staff go the extra mile for their patients. They recognise what these little warriors are all going through, and keep everyone's spirits up. With all the prods and pokes Graham has to go through, this is so joyful, welcoming and comforting," she said.

Image source, Kristin Squires
Image caption,
Kristin Squires down on the ground, on the other side of the glass (R)

Her voice breaking slightly, Kristin explains how difficult it can be for parents and children, but how wonderful it was to also see her family and friends holding up a twinkling "G" for Graham.

On the ground, the crowds are definitely in a festive mood, with some people sharing their footage on Twitter using the hashtag #moonbeamsforsweetdreams.

The principal of a local elementary school, who shared a photo of his family outside the hospital, described the event as "nothing short of an emotional rollercoaster".

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Spirit of the holidays

Patricia Ogura, an IT consultant who lives nearby, found out about the event on local news and has taken part three times.

Image source, Patricia Ogura
Image caption,
Patricia Ogura loves the atmosphere outside the hospital

Easily spotted in her multicoloured flashing garland, Patricia told the BBC about the first time she went on her own: "It was a cold and snowy Tuesday. I was surprised to find hundreds of people there, carolling and sharing stories. One guy said he'd travelled from two towns away."

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Among the crowds, Patricia has seen Girl Scout troops, high school and university athletic teams, and buses full of elementary school students.

"Their energy and enthusiasm are always contagious. It's a great atmosphere and shows the spirit of the holidays, with complete strangers getting together. The kids love it, and the people who work there love being part of it."

The Lake Shore Public school took seven busloads of people ready to shine their moonbeams at the hospital.

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Another light-shining participant, Donna Boyd, shared her 360-degree view from ground level.

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The crowd is gathering. #moonbeamsforsweetdreams

A post shared by Donna_Boyd (@donna_boyd) on

Kristin is hoping other communities will follow suit. A similar event already takes place on Rhode Island where businesses flash lights for children, and another hospital has been in touch with the team at Beaumont for advice.

As the tradition looks set to continue for years to come, it's clear that parents and children alike will continue to enjoy this light show.

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