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Play Transforms Traumatised Child's Life

A young girl from Nottingham has started to overcome her extreme fear of hospitals thanks to health play specialists and resources from children’s charity, Starlight.

Francesca, aged 8, has an extremely rare condition called Acrodysostosis PDE4D variant, which is a form of dwarfism and affects most of her body, including her brain, eyes, lungs, jaw, heart, limbs, stomach, hearing and bowels. This means she is in and out of hospital constantly and has a total of 27 consultants involved with her complex care. Since her diagnosis in 2018, she has undergone a huge range of procedures including three brain surgeries, scans, lumbar punctures, and blood tests.

Spending significant time in hospital and having regular emergency procedures has led to undoubtable trauma and meant Francesca could not even have a blood test without general anaesthetic. Francesca was then referred to a health play specialist who transformed her healthcare experience, with the support of Starlight who provided much needed play resources.

Starlight supports health play specialists across the country by sending in boxes of play equipment which means children, like Francesca, can have the opportunity to play. Play helps to reduce trauma for children, and it can also save the NHS precious time and money by speeding up procedures. Research from Pro-Bono Economics revealed that using Starlight’s play boxes could reduce treatment time by 6 minutes.

Cathy Gilman, Chief Executive of Starlight, said: “At Starlight, we know that trauma and mental health problems are a real threat to children in hospital who do not have the opportunity to play. Play is absolutely crucial to every child’s hospital experience; our data shows that play can reduce time in hospital for children and also saves the medical team valuable time. Far too many people see play as a ‘nice to have’ but, we know it can transform a child’s treatment journey and improve their mental health.”

After just six months of therapeutic play, Francesca can now have an MRI scan on her own and without general anaesthetic. Her family can hardly believe the difference from the little girl who was screaming behind hospital curtains, terrified.

Kimberley Stanley, Francesca’s mum, said: “Play makes Francesca feel in control of her situation and brings her back down to a level where she is able to cope with whatever the medical team need to do. To know our child can now lay in a scanner without panicking and moving due to distress is amazing. It also means she can spend less time in a hospital setting. I strongly believe without play, hospital for children would be so much worse.”

Francesca is now the face of the charity’s upcoming appeal, and the family are helping Starlight advocate for play in healthcare for all children across the country. To find out how to support Starlight and ensure more hospitals receive the play resources they so urgently need please visit: