Pilots for Kids, an international organization, has been inspiring and uplifting patients for the past 12 years at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach. Pilots For Kids is dedicated to visiting children’s hospitals and gifting them with toys, gift cards, and more. They consist of hundreds of major airline crewmembers, military, private pilots, and aviation enthusiasts.
Captain John Morgan and his team of Pilots and crewmembers work closely with the Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Program to coordinate special visits for the children. When they visit, they tell them their flying stories, and encourage children who are interested in becoming pilots in the future.
“They help to transform Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach during the holiday season. They build up the morale for everybody, not just patients and families but the staff included,” says Debi Fingerhut, senior child life specialist/educator, Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Program.
One particular pilot, Captain Ed Souder, holds significant ties to Miller Children’s & Women’s. Captain Souder had a specific request when he came to visit the children during the holidays. He asked Debi if he was able to start with the hematology/oncology unit at the Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Institute. Without hesitation, Debi honored his request as there was currently a hospitalized graduating teen in that unit who had a strong desire to become a pilot. He immediately bonded with the teen, as he explained he also was a patient at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach 20 years ago when he was battling leukemia.
“It was such a tearful visit. He bonded with the teen in our hospital saying, ‘I’ve been there, I’ve been in that bed, I know exactly where you are, and I want to help you reach your goal,’ ” explained Debi. “He has now been visiting for the last two years and always asks to start in the hematology/oncology unit, looking to make another meaningful connection.”
Pilots for Kids also participates in the annual Beach Day Carnival, where Houssels Forum is transformed into a beachside paradise for pediatric patients and their families. Additionally, they participate in the Santa’s Workshop event that features games, gifts, and activities for patients.
But, due to COVID-19, Pilots for Kids hasn’t been able to visit the children’s bedside as they usually do, however, they always find creative ways to bring holiday cheer to patients. Last holiday season, they visited the pavilion lobby wearing Santa hats, sang a Christmas carol, and rewrote the lyrics to the 12 Days of Christmas singing about how the Pilots came to Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach.
“We have missed Pilots For Kids during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they have adapted their visits and made up for it tenfold with their generosity and creativity. They always provide an outpouring of love, support, and compassion for our patients and staff,” says Debi. “We are so thankful for their support.”