GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Assistance League volunteers Elaine Beal, left, Marti Frensley, Dorothy Steele, Barbara Bachmann, Margie Van Swearingen and Leney Vine display teddy bears. CLICK FOR LARGE
Teddy bears warm patients in-flight
The Air Ambulance gives the cuddly toys to young passengers
Pediatric patients taken to Oahu for medical care on Hawaii Air Ambulance leave the airplanes with a "cuddly friend."
It's a teddy bear about a foot tall with thick fur, wearing an Assistance League of Hawaii T-shirt.
"You should see the kids brighten up when they see a bear," said Eric Niven, business development director with the air ambulance.
The Assistance League of Hawaii donates the teddy bears as part of a "We Care" project.
"We deliver them all over the island (Oahu) and now we're moving to the neighbor islands," said Margie Van Swearingen, chairwoman of the league's thrift shop.
Each of Hawaii Air Ambulance's four bases -- on the Big Island, Maui, Kauai and Oahu -- has a supply of bears, Niven said.
They are targeted for pediatric patients "from 30 days old up to 18 -- really anybody we think the teddy bear can bring some type of reassurance or comfort," he said.
Niven said he used to do a similar program for a parent company on the mainland. When he came here in March he got in touch with the assistance league about doing it here.
"They were so gracious when I approached them," he said. "When we got our first group of teddy bears to distribute, I was very pleased. It's really a quality bear. The Assistance League has gone overboard...
"The better the bear, the better the impact," Niven said, adding that he wouldn't be surprised if the young patients kept the bears as a remembrance of "a positive thing."
Aaron Friel, Hawaii Air Ambulance chief flight nurse, said in a news release, "I wish the membership of the Assistance League of Hawaii could see the difference these teddy bears make."
Friel said, "Flying can be a new experience for these pediatric patients who may already be stressed due to a medical condition.
"We wanted to do something extra to bring comfort to these little patients during flight and when we heard about the Teddy Bear Program, we thought they might help us accomplish that."
Mary Kay Junk, past chairwoman of the assistance league's "We Care" projects, said she was delighted the air ambulance wanted to participate and the request was "unanimously and very enthusiastically approved.
"Our goal...is to give comfort to children in traumatizing situations," Junk said. "Being able to cuddle a teddy bear seems to alleviate stress. Such a small thing as a little cuddly friend can make such a huge difference."
The Hawaii league is a chapter of the National Assistance League, a volunteer, nonprofit charitable organization that relies on corporate and private donations, grants, thrift-shop sales and fundraising activities to purchase teddy bears and conduct other service projects.