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Firefighters bring smiles, stickers to children at Sherman Hospital

Firefighters Nick Walker (from left) Wayde Smith cheer up young patient Kai Evan Guerrero 2 his mother Evonne during visit

Firefighters Nick Walker (from left) and Wayde Smith cheer up young patient Kai Evan Guerrero, 2, and his mother Evonne during a visit from the Elgin Fire Department Wednesday at Sherman Hospital in Elgin. January 9, 2013 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 11, 2013 7:28AM

ELGIN — Kai Evan Guerrero, 2, of Lake in the Hills threw his arm over his eyes protectively when the two firefighters entered his room in the pediatric unit at Sherman Hospital.

But that arm came down slowly, shyly, to grab the sticker offered by Firefighter Nick Walker. And Kai beamed as his mom, Ivonne Guerrero, pressed a red plastic firefighter’s helmet over his dark cowlicks.

“Let’s see how it looks,” Walker said, kneeling gently next to the toddler’s hospital bed. “Pretty cool, huh? That hat’s pretty cool.”

The smile on Kai’s face said the boy agreed as firefighters from Station No. 2 of the Elgin Fire Department visited the pediatric unit Wednesday on the sixth floor of Sherman Hospital, 1425 N. Randall Road.

They brought with them plastic firefighter’s helmets, stickers, coloring books and paper punch-outs of firetrucks, all part of a new partnership between the hospital and fire department. That partnership, which began this week, will bring firefighters to visit some of the hospital’s youngest patients every other Wednesday morning.

“We’re out there fighting fires and going to car crashes and heart attacks,” Firefighter Dave Gartrell said.

“It’s nice to come up here and, for a few minutes, be around a more positive atmosphere and not a crisis situation — helping people out and putting a smile on kids’ faces.”

Giving back

The partnership was an idea that came from Elgin Fire Chief John Fahy, who tasked Gartrell with the details after reaching out to the hospital himself. It’s something Gartrell said Elgin had seen other departments doing and thought, “Gosh, why aren’t we doing something like that?”

The coloring books and punch-outs were something firefighters thought might keep kids busy while resting in bed in the hospital, Gartrell said. Visiting those kids was something they could do to give back to the community, he said.

They’d visited once before, calling the hospital Christmas morning when it was clear their schedule would allow it, according to Michelle Herman, manager of medical and pediatric care at Sherman.

Nurses then gathered all the children that morning into an empty room with a view of the hospital’s geothermal lake, where they waited, clambering onto the sill and pressing their faces to the glass, Herman said. That’s when the firetruck appeared, lifting Santa Claus in its bucket to greet them outside the sixth-floor window, she said.

“The kids were just screaming and jumping up and down, and the nurses were just crying in the background,” she said.

Both Santa and firefighters visited every room in the pediatric unit that day, bringing gifts to all the children ranging in age from a 2-month-old baby to an 18-year-old, even stopping in on several adults, she said.

Days later, she said, those patients still were talking about the visit from St. Nick. And nurses were so appreciative that they visited Station No. 2 in turn Tuesday, dropping off cookies and other snacks for the firefighters.

Lifting spirits

“I think it’s going to be great,” Herman said of the new partnership between the hospital and fire department.

“All of these kids are here for a long time. Even if they’re just here for three days, they’re three long days, and stressful for parents.”

Not only will the partnership build relationships between the firefighters and nurses, she said, but also the visits break up those long days for patients, she said. The visits help the healing process, encouraging the kids to get out of bed and move around. And they “absolutely” lift kids’ spirits, she said.

That was clear Wednesday a handful of firefighters greeted Chase Ruddy of Huntley in the arms of the 10-month-old’s mother, Jennifer Ruddy, then stopped into Kai’s room.

Kai has been at Sherman about three days with pneumonia, his mother said.

He just got into hats, Guerrero said. He’d worn a skull cap her husband had given him the entire time he was in the emergency room, pulling it down over his eyes when he was frightened, she said.

That’s why the red plastic helmet from firefighters had elicited a smile from the boy, even though, Guerrero said, “I’ve never seen anything like it — my eldest daughter has never been sick like that.”

“God bless the fact he’s feeling so much better.”

Well enough, at least, to smile and wave to firefighters as they left his hospital room Wednesday.

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