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Group Brings Joy to Kids at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital

The halls of the pediatric units at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital were just a little bit brighter on a Sunday in December. A group from Bring Joy to the Children Foundation arrived at the hospital with a trailer filled with toys, leaving the spirit of the holidays behind with each pediatric patient they encountered.

Volunteers from Bring Joy to the Children Foundation brought music, gifts and holiday cheer to UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital on December 17, 2017.

This marked the 22nd year that Kathie Atkins and her daughter, Brianna, have visited the hospital during the holidays to deliver toys donated through their foundation, Bring Joy to the Children. With the help of the Child Life team, Kathie and Brianna brought smiles to the kids spending time in the hospital, ensuring they received a special hand-picked toy. This mother-daughter duo knows exactly what it’s like to be in the hospital, as Brianna was treated for neuroblastoma at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital as a child. Brianna was diagnosed at four months old. She was treated for 18 months, after which she was declared to be in remission. Over 20 years later, they return to the hospital where she was treated at to give back.

Brianna Atkins places her hand next to the very tile she painted as a pediatric oncology patient over 20 years ago.

One particular instance inspired Kathie to start the Bring Joy to the Children Foundation. One year, Brianna was scheduled to receive treatment over Christmas, so they would be unable to be home for the holidays. Fortunately, her doctor was able to switch her treatment to Christmas Eve, and as Kathie was joyfully packing their things to go home, she noticed someone had placed a tiny red rattle in Brianna’s crib. She was overcome with emotion. She was grateful someone had thought of her family at Christmas, but saddened so many people she cared deeply about—doctors, nurses, patients and families alike—would be unable to spend the holidays at home. “It was then I thought if I could do anything to thank them, it would be at Christmas,” said Kathie.

The mission of Bring Joy to the Children is to share the inspiration and joy of the holiday season with children in the hospital. They certainly did just that, as they walked through the pediatric units with two guitarists singing holiday carols for all to hear. It brought smiles to patients and staff alike. The smiles are Kathie and Brianna’s favorite part of their visits. “We enter into a dark room with a child who can barely lift their head, and by the time we leave it’s like a ray of sun,” said Kathie. Thank you, Bring Joy to the Children for making a difference for the kids at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital during the holidays! To learn more about this organization, check out the Bring Joy to the Children Facebook page. 

Kathie and Brianna Atkins pose with staff from UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital outside of the truck of gifts they brought with them.