Todd "T.J." Colby settled in with his popcorn and snacks for the movie last Friday night. His sisters Lauryn and Elizabeth, mom Jennifer and dad Todd Sr. got to watch along with him.

Kapiolani hospital is showing a new
way of getting well -- it's called a "movie"

By Helen Altonn

Six-year-old Todd "T.J." Colby raced ahead of his parents and two little sisters with his intravenous unit to get popcorn, candy and juice.

Arrianna Diaz, 7, arrived in a wheelchair with her IV unit, parents and a cousin. It was the first time she had been out of bed since March 27.

The eager youngsters were among the patients going to see the film "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" in the auditorium of Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children for "Movie Night."

The hospital's Pediatric Support and Child Life Services Department initiated "Movie Night" last month with Disney's "Atlantis, the Lost Empire." The purpose of the monthly event is to create a diversion for the children and give them a dose of laughter as good medicine, the planners said.

"Humor and laughter benefit the whole body," said Katie Supinger, university intern in the child-life department.

She said laughter decreases muscle tension and increases oxygen; blood pressure goes down, and the pumped-up immune system provides better circulation.

Of course, the kids don't care anything about that.

They headed straight for the concession stand set up by the university child-life interns with popcorn and kaki mochi, animal crackers, lollipops and other treats.

Signature Theatres donated some of the snacks and for the premier movie last month gave the hospital life-size replicas of Sulley and Mike Wazowski, lead characters from the movie "Monsters, Inc." The popular figures now are part of Kapiolani's Children's Playroom.

"Movie Night" was conceived to give teen patients something to do when the play room closes at 5 p.m. and has grown to encompass the entire pediatric population and their families, said Robyn Chow-Hoy, Kapiolani child-life specialist.

More than a month of planning went into the inaugural movie, she said. "Everything was fine except for the spilt popcorn and sticky candy on the floor to clean up.

"We received some really good feedback. The kids want it every night if we could have it."

But planning is intensive, said Supinger, full-time child-life intern from Colorado College.

Children must be healthy enough to attend the movie and cleared by their nurses, Chow-Hoy said.

Also, "We have to make sure of dietary restrictions. Can they drink this or eat that?" Interns must monitor what the children get at the concession stand.

"We have to go more for hard candy than chocolates or something with nuts because of allergies," she said. "A lot of kids are allergic to nuts and chocolate."

Any siblings or visitors under 12 also must have an infectious-disease clearance from the nurses.

Fourteen of 52 kids in the hospital for treatment last Friday were cleared for the movie. Each received tickets to invite family members or friends. The tickets are good for free snacks and collected at the door of the auditorium-theater.

University of Hawaii seniors Katrina La and Teal Imada, part-time hospital interns, helped to organize the event so it's as much like a real night out at the movies as possible.

About 30 to 40 patients and guests showed up for "ET." The entire child-life staff was present in case of an emergency.

Like kids at any movie, the young patients went in and out, undeterred by IV apparatus, to get more goodies or go to the bathroom. Nurses entered the darkened theater at intervals with flashlights to change or add medication to the IV units.

With T.J. were his parents, Todd and Jennifer Colby of Kaneohe, and sisters, Elizabeth, 3, and Lauryn, 2.

He was diagnosed with leukemia in 1997 and is in a "maintenance phase," going to the hospital for weekly treatments, his parents said. They took him to the hospital Thursday because he was not feeling well. "Movie Night" was Friday.

"It's a great idea," said Jennifer Colby. "It gets families together. We were missing him."

"He's doing pretty good," his father added. "He was looking forward to this."

Arrianna was admitted to the hospital March 27 because she became ill and could not walk, said her mother, Julie Diaz.

After numerous tests, Arrianna was diagnosed with cancer April 2. She had three surgeries in one week, including one on Easter Sunday, her mother said. "She was looking for eggs in her bed."

The spunky child was excited about the movie because she had been in bed since going to the hospital and got to sit up in a wheelchair for the special event, Julie Diaz added.

Arrianna said she misses her friends at Kaleiopuu Elementary School, but she made a new friend in the hospital. T.J. rolled his IV into her room for a visit earlier in the day.

Despite some problems with the sound, the audience, young and old, was enthralled with "E.T." and clapped enthusiastically when it ended.

After two big bags of buttered popcorn and a brief snooze during the movie, T.J. was raring to go again, anxious to play a video hockey game with his dad, staying with him at the hospital overnight.

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