CLEVELAND — Kids at MetroHealth in Cleveland are carrying on a special tradition extending to hundreds of patients at their hospital.
“Thirty-two years we’ve been doing this for you, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon,” said Matthew Whaley, who’s a burn survivor and stuffed animal distributor.
Whaley arrived outside the old hospital building, with a truck completely filled with dozens of boxes full of stuffed animals, all to make a special difference in someone’s life.
“Anybody who has actually had the unfortunate time of spending time in a hospital and your parents go home at nighttime, you’re in an awkward place. No one is there that you know, you’re scared and for some reason if you can think about when you were a child, that teddy bear made everybody safe,” said Whaley.
Whaley says he can relate to this feeling following his own experience.
“When I was 18 years old, I was burned from the waist down with 425 degrees,” said Whaley.
Now as a burn survivor, Whaley spreads hope with a simple yet comforting gesture.
“It’s only a teddy bear, like I said. I’m not solving their scars, but it’s something that means something to them,” said Whaley.
Lugging in the boxes one by one—with help coming from everyone—carts scurried across the building where staff eventually dropped them off in the hospital’s tree house room.
“I love passing them out to kids. It totally makes my day, especially when I pick an animal where they’re like ‘Oh hey, this just happens to be my favorite animal,” said Child Life Specialist, Rachel Rymer.
Then, Whaley and his team sorted through the boxes to find the right ones for kids, like Blake, in the hospital’s pediatric unit.
“You want an iguana?” Blake’s dad said.
While this little guy isn’t a burn victim, having his new stuffed animal friend helped him feel relax.
“I can’t take away their mental or physical scars, all I can do is try to make them comfortable while they’re in the hospital,” said Whaley.
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