Helping Pediatric Patients Smile During a Difficult Time

Pediatric patients undergoing proton therapy may require up to 40 treatment sessions. Many team members at Hampton University Proton Cancer Institute (Hampton Proton) have children and are acutely aware of how difficult the cancer treatment course can be for pediatric patients and their families.

Hampton Proton is collaborating with other leading regional medical centers, such as Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, to make treatment more bearable for our pediatric patients through our HUPTI Smiles initiative. Each child gets to select a new, wrapped toy or gift card during treatments. All the toys are kept in a huge chest to add some fun and levity to each visit. 

Why HUPTI Smiles?

One day in the midst of the COVID lockdown, Tiffany Rodgers, Marketing Director at Hampton Proton, glanced out her office window and saw a man with a young child approach the building.

“I was like, why is that guy bringing his little boy? He needs to be in school,” says Rodgers. “As they walked closer and closer, I realized that the child might be a patient. My heart dropped.”

Rodgers realized that the child, Marc-Thomas Hardy, was indeed a cancer patient. “I had only been in the job for three months and hadn’t seen a pediatric patient because children are only a small percentage of all the patients we treat.”

Rodgers learned the story from the child’s father, Marcus Hardy, who told her that the five-year-old had been experiencing a lot of headaches. After several emergency room visits, an MRI confirmed that he had a brain tumor.

Rodgers says Marc-Thomas “was heavy on my heart for days.” She wanted to do something to help the family and other children who must undergo treatment, usually consisting of 30 to 40 daily, back-to-back sessions.

She went for a run and the answer came to her: toys. She and her girlfriends, and eventually others, donated funds to start a program that provides gifts to pediatric patients undergoing treatment. After every session, children select wrapped gifts to celebrate the completion of each session.

The HUPTI Smiles initiative is now an integral part of the institute’s care for children. “We designate up to $250 per child, and we either give them toys every day or teens get a gift card weekly. We do something specifically for each child.”

The nonprofit encourages those who want to help to contribute tax-deductible donations to support the initiative. While donations are accepted year-round, they are especially appreciated during the holiday season in November and December. “We have a toy drive, and lots of individuals, churches and organizations drop off toys.” Rodgers’ goal is to raise $25,000 this year.

The project has served about 20 kids this year, and Rodgers hopes to double that number next year.

In addition to purchasing gifts, Rodgers wants to redesign the pediatric patient area, called the Norma B. Harvey Children’s Center. “We’d love to make the space COVID-friendly with more digital elements and features for our little ones and add more vibrancy to the space.” She welcomes organizations that might want to sponsor the update.

“I hope people will consider giving so that we can provide gifts to every child,” Rodgers says. “It’s a little gesture, but it helps fuel the children and their parents to keep on fighting.”

Why Is Proton Therapy Ideal for Pediatric Patients?

Proton therapy treats localized cancers such as brain, lung, head and neck tumors and minimizes many of the side effects of radiation.

“Proton therapy is really great for pediatric patients,” Rodgers says. “It spares the surrounding organs and tissue and allows kids to grow normally.”

HUPTI, which opened 12 years ago, is the only proton therapy center within 100 miles of Hampton, VA. Many families must travel significant distances each day to undergo treatment at Hampton Proton.  

Would You Like to Contribute to HUPTI Smiles or Learn More About Proton Therapy?

Get in touch with Tiffany Rodgers or the team at Hampton Proton by calling 757.251.6800.