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EWE Spirit Grant Recipient Story:

As part of EWE Spirit's 2024 1st quarter grants, we chose to support charities local to Miami as an extension of our participation in the Bacardi Cup Regatta.

Just a few days before Joshua passed away, a team of incredible people transported him home from Holtz Children’s Hospital, in Miami, to surprise his father on Father’s Day. When another patient, Christopher, turned 18, that same team took him to an arcade to celebrate, despite the mechanical heart that required his hospitalization.

Each year, a program called PediPals makes beautifully moving experiences like these possible for about 500 children with life-altering and sometimes life-ending conditions, such as cancer, organ transplants, burns, immune disorders, and serious trauma. Started by pediatric and neonatal palliative care nurse Kimberly Juanico, PediPals strives not only to make children more comfortable during long, challenging hospital stays, but also to give them a much-needed sense of normalcy.

2023 prom for Holtz Children's Hospital patients, hosted by People In Crisis United.

“We help these kids feel like kids,” says Juanico. “And we connect patients and families so they realize that they’re not alone.”

In addition to individualized “make-a-wish” experiences, PediPals tries to get patients out of the hospital weekly for “Feel Good Fridays.” These can involve trips to local museums or sports events, like Miami Heat basketball games, or special activities on the hospital lawns, like visits from firefighters (with a firetruck, of course) and miniature horses.

The local fire department also provides a regular service of transporting kids safely to and from PediPals events. “We tell the kids that these rescue workers are their VIP entourage,” says Juanico.

PediPals even finds ways to get kids on the water. They’ve taken some children swimming with dolphins. With help from Shake-A-Leg Miami, an adaptive water sports organization, they’ve provided sailing experiences and enabled patients to participate in the annual Christmas boat parade.

“A child in a wheelchair might think they can’t do things like that,” says Juanico, “but there are activities that a lot of these kids can do.”

PediPals’ partner organization, People In Crisis United, hosts an annual prom for patients, organized by local high school students. The community donates clothes, shoes and accessories, and volunteers from the Beauty Schools of America offer free makeovers. For children who spend so much of their lives in sterile hospital environments surrounded by medical personnel, this chance to live like a normal teenager for one night is transformative.

Having a child in long-term medical care can be a heavy burden on families. So PediPals also offers comprehensive support for patients’ parents and siblings. This ranges from child care and counseling to financial support to pay bills.

“We remind parents, ‘Life does not stop when your child is in the hospital,’” says Juanico. “And we ask them, ‘How can we help you find balance?’”

One of the things that she says is most heartwarming is the community’s tremendous generosity. “I’m so amazed by the community support that helps us to do what we do.”

EWE Spirit learned about this wonderful program through the Bacardi Cup, a regatta held at Shake-A-Leg Miami. We are proud that our grant to PediPals is connecting even more of our sailing community to this meaningful cause.

Note: The patients’ names in the above story were changed to maintain privacy.



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