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  • Paulo Tanchuling

Touching hearts, reaching lives, rising to challenges

Play It Forward brings therapeutic play to children in Heart Center

The inauguration of the Philippine Heart Center’s (PHC) new Play It Forward (PIF) Play Space for pediatric patients on June 17 was a milestone for children’s healthcare in the country, and a stepping stone towards the future.

Unilab Foundation’s (ULF) PIF promotes therapeutic play in hospitals as a way to help sick and recovering young patients cope with the trauma and stress of disease and treatment routines. It addresses their emotional and physical needs through a combination of a Play Space and a therapeutic play curriculum, for faster recovery in mind and body.


PHC in Quezon City is the sixth medical institution to have a PIF Play Space built, after the Fe del Mundo Medical Center, the National Kidney and Transplant Institute, the Lung Center of the Philippines, the Rizal Medical Center, and Far Eastern University-Nicanor Reyes Medical Foundation.


As with the other pilot PIF Play Spaces in Metro Manila, ULF teamed up with the Philippine School of Interior Design, whose students design the Play Spaces as a way to apply their learning. However, unlike the other hospitals, PHC is unique in that the curriculum was created by the pediatric cardiologists themselves, to address the specific needs of their pre- and post-cardiac surgery patients.

Also for the first time, a civic organization partnered with ULF for the project. The Rotary Club of Makati-Dasmari?as (RCMD) helped fund the construction and furnishing of the 110-sqm PIF Play Space, the largest to date, located at Room Petal, Wing 3-D on the third floor of PHC.


Besides therapists’ manuals, the room is furnished with building blocks and other small toys; miniature doctors’ coats and tools for role-playing activities; children’s books about health by award-winning author Luis Gatmaitan, MD; small tables and chairs; and a junior exercise bike. It also has distinctly Filipino elements that double as physical rehabilitation facilities, such as a jeepney whose steering wheel can be used to improve patients’ range of motion, and an ice cream cart (sorbetero) meant for strength exercises.


ULF Executive Director Rhodora Palomar-Fresnedi shares that PIF was inspired by Typhoon Sendong in 2011, which affected more than 80,000 children. “When kids experience trauma, whether it's a disaster or major illness, then their childhood, their development, stops,” she says. “If we don’t address the pediatric patients in the 2,000 hospitals in the Philippines, we're essentially saying we're putting our own future on hold. When we put the development of our children on hold, then we put our country's future on hold as well.”


Palomar-Fresnedi adds that PIF is meant to serve as a “scientific and replicable” model for future efforts. “I hope the rehab regimens are successful so they can be published, para matularan ng ibang department (so that other departments in the hospital can follow suit),” says Hernando Cruz Jr., MD, president of RCMD. He is one of three RCMD presidents involved in the course of the project, and himself a medical doctor in Makati. “I hope later on in the near future, we can do some more to help and to serve other people,” he adds.


“Taking care of sick children is not only the domain of physicians,” emphasizes Manuel Chua Chiaco, MD, PHC Executive Director. It is good that people of various disciplines helped bring this about, he says, adding, “But should we stop and pat ourselves on the back? No. We should bring our healthcare to all corners of the Philippines.”


“We believe that the future of our children, particularly those who are sick, cannot be handled by one organization alone,” Palomar-Fresnedi says. “But in the spirit of bayanihan, we can address this issue together. As long as the desire is there, ‘pag gusto, magagawa, at ‘pag tutugunan, mangyayari (if we want to, it can be done, and if we focus our efforts, it will happen).


All this is in keeping with the mission of Play It Forward, as it contributes to a healthier Philippines, one child, one hospital at a time.


Help the pediatric patients of Philippine Heart Center to recover faster. Be a Play It Forward weekend volunteer!

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