24 April 2024

30 years of joy and laughter for children in hospital

As a child you spent a lot of time in hospital and know first-hand how stressful and challenging that can be. When your mother Théodora came to visit you, how did her ability to create joyful memories transform your hospital experience?

When I was younger, I severely cut my foot whilst moving the lawn, very badly as it turns out. My dad rushed me to the hospital – where they narrowly saved my life and my foot but only through many months of hospitalisation and 14 operations over the span of two years.  

André in hospital with his surgeon

My mum would come to see me every day – from the first to the very last minute of visiting hours. She entertained me with games, with singing, and, most importantly, by sparking my imagination. She transported me – allowed me to escape from that hospital bed. For those precious short hours, my mind was somewhere else. I like to think of my mum as the original Giggle Doctor!

You and your brother Jan founded Theodora Foundation Switzerland in her memory. What made you decide to create the Theodora Children’s Charity in the UK?

As surprising as it may sound, it all began in a post office of my little Swiss hometown when I met a gentleman who turned out to be a  board member of Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH). After finding out about our work in Switzerland, he opened the way for us to begin at GOSH thanks to his irreproachable reputation at Europe’s oldest and most famous children’s hospital.

Our first Giggle Doctor visit at GOSH took place 30 years ago on what would have been our mother’s birthday, chosen to honour her joyful energy and the way she inspired my brother and I to start the charity in her memory. We are so proud and thankful to have been able to expand our work in many more hospitals and specialist care centres across England and help bring laughter and smiles to families when they need the most, just like my mother did for me.

What makes the Giggle Doctors so special?

I’m always in awe of our Giggle Doctors. They work in a challenging setting, full of crucial rules that need to be respected around hygiene and safeguarding. But within those parameters, they have an amazing amount of imaginative freedom to transport children away from their hospital bed and into a magical world.

This is because it’s not just about laughter – it’s about opening a window in a child’s imagination and enabling them to escape for a while; to take their mind off the time they have to spend in hospital. For some children, it might be the first time they’re spending a night away from home, and their senses are overwhelmed by the beeps, and lights of the hospital bay, with strangers prodding and monitoring them. It can be scary, intimidating and stressful.

We get no government funding and rely on the generosity of our supporters to fund our Giggle Doctor visits for children in hospital. What would you like to say to our supporters directly?

I feel so honoured to have some wonderful people surrounding us in this adventure to bring magic, storytelling, and laughter to children during difficult times. We are grateful to the children we help – who join in with us on this journey so willingly and with such heart-warming joy, as well as the Giggle Doctors – who use such skill and emotional awareness to change lives. Importantly, my thanks go out to all of our incredible supporters without whom this work would not be possible.

Every Giggle Doctor visit is free for children and their families to ensure the gift of giggles is accessible to all. Over the years we have had the most fantastic supporters who truly understand the power of laughter; one supporter Phil, shared with us recently that he has been donating every year since he heard about us, an incredible 21 years ago.

We are honoured to receive support from a variety of people and groups; whether it be charity of the year donations from corporations or local sports clubs, donations into our annual matched funding campaigns, regular gifts via payroll giving or standing orders, Trusts and Foundations donations, gifts left kindly in someone’s will, or events put on specifically for us – comedy nights are a popular one!

All of our supporters know that we are a small charity, with work that makes a big difference for thousands of families going through extremely challenging times. They are all very much a part of our wonderful Theodora family and it is thanks to them that our Giggle Doctors are able to do what they do best.

How do you envision the future of Theodora Children’s Charity and our wonderful Giggle Doctors?

There is no doubt that today, more than ever, our work is needed and appreciated. Whether it is to support hospital staff and play teams, or the increasing levels of mental health difficulties amongst children, our Giggle Doctor visits in hospitals are in demand. We are striving to meet this demand and are continuously working to increase the impact of our work, and in turn measure and share this impact to our supporters old and new.

Theodora Children’s Charity is constantly learning, growing, and developing. Another generation of Giggle Doctors are currently being trained and others shall follow. The values that determine our work and our experience in this unique field will ensure countless joyful encounters, magical and colourful adventures, and brightening the stays of children in hospital for many years to come.

Our new trainee Giggle Doctors

We are thrilled to have achieved this 30-year milestone and shall continue our hard work thanks to a wonderful team of dedicated and talented people, encouraged by our generous donors and supporters. My brother and I, as well as our UK head office, are most thankful to all whom support Theodora’s. We can only be mesmerised by the positive energy that we modestly set in motion all those years ago.

André and Jan Poulie

How the Giggle Doctors helped Rory

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