Parents Lynn and Danny knew that their daughter Emerson, know as Emmy, would need surgery around the time she turned 18 months old. They were as prepared as a family could be: they had a doctor they liked and trusted—he wears a Mickey Mouse watch—a top hospital, Kaiser Permanente Orange County, just under two hours from their home; supportive family and friends who would be there with them; and then…like everyone else, their plans were completely upended by COVID-19.
Little Emmy’s surgery was pushed from March to June, and the family adjusted to the uncomfortable reality that Danny could drive them to doctor’s appointments and pre-surgery workups but was never allowed in a building. They took comfort in how extraordinarily prepared and helpful the hospital was in communicating with them about the new normal—how many COVID tests they needed and when, what they could and couldn’t bring with them, what to expect from the day of the surgery, how to plan for bringing Emmy home, and more. Lynn describes their care for her family as “extraordinary—spectacular, in every way.”
Lynn and Danny are huge advocates for positivity and Lynn’s advice for any parent facing a similar situation is exactly that: “Stay calm and stay positive. Kids are so in tune with your energy—you can fall apart when they leave you, but the important thing is to find the good, the helpers, and the happiness in any situation.”
COVID restrictions made finding that positivity a little tougher, which is one reason Lynn tears up as she remembers being greeted at check-in on the day of Emmy’s surgery with something “just so joyful”—a hand puppet kit from Project Sunshine: “It took us from this low place to like, ‘Oh, fun!’”
Emmy picked up on that energy right away, and despite being in the strange, masked world of the hospital, Emmy’s excited, “Horsey! Horsey! Horsey!” is what Lynn remembers from that day; that and being so relieved that Emmy had something to distract her and something to enjoy. “She didn’t even cry when they took her away,” Lynn marvels.
It’s been more than five months since the surgery, and it’s hard to tell what, if anything, Emmy remembers from that experience. Occasionally during doctor-play she’ll wrap her hand up in imitation of the bandage she wore, but she doesn’t seem traumatized by the surgery and still loves going to see her doctor (and his Mickey Mouse watch). The one funny thing Lynn can’t explain is that sticker-loving two-year-old Emmy has never used the stickers from her Project Sunshine bag.
“She’ll line them up, she’ll play with them, but she’s never put them on anything,” Lynn says, adding, “she was that way with the hand puppet, too—for some reason, she just wanted to hold onto them.” Lynn shrugs, the inner workings of a toddler’s brain are a mystery, but it’s clear these particular toys mean something to Emmy, that they have some resonance or carry some memory for her. Lynn is pretty sure whatever memories Emmy has won’t stay forever, but she is grateful that the ones she made that day were good ones.
Project Sunshine’s Activity Kit included a hand puppet horsey, markers, and some stickers, but for Lynn and Emmy, it was a manifestation of the love and support all their friends and family could only send from a distance. Alone in a strange and scary place, for Lynn, and maybe even for Emmy, that literal ray of sunshine reminded her of all the helpers and the happiness out there, and that really made a difference.