Hayden White and nurse Anna Ellingburg were the November champions in OLOL Children’s Hospital’s Believe It Achieve It program. As his prize, Hayden received a free pair of Saucony shoes at his “No Mo Chemo” party. Courtesy Ashley Fogle

Up on their feet: A new program helps motivate children’s hospital patients to keep moving

After Hayden White recovered from surgery at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital to remove osteosarcoma found in his leg, his parents worried they would have to be the “bad guys” in forcing Hayden to complete his physical therapy sessions, says dad Corey White.

In addition to the surgery, Hayden, 8, also underwent 18 rounds of chemotherapy treatments, each requiring a weeklong stay at the hospital. How would the Whites entice their son to get out of his hospital bed after the treatments and surgery had made him tired and weak?

Turns out that wouldn’t be as difficult as Corey and his wife Karen had feared. In partnership with Varsity Sports and with donations provided by GMFS Mortgage, OLOL Children’s Hospital has implemented a fun plan to help pediatric patients like Hayden get active while hospitalized. This new mobility campaign, “Believe It Achieve It,” incentivizes pediatric patients and their nurses to get up and get moving by offering cool prizes like hats, blankets, T-shirts and, the ultimate goal, a pair of Saucony shoes, in exchange for reaching certain activity milestones.

Just five months after surgery, the Believe It Achieve It campaign has helped Hayden progress from his walker to walking on his own to riding an adaptive bicycle, says Corey. “Without that kind of motivation, he never would have made it to that level,” Corey says.

The idea for the Believe It Achieve It campaign came when Varsity Sports owner Jenni Peters wondered how she could help chronically ill kids get active. A running specialty store with shops in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Mandeville, Varsity Sports had already won an award and grant money from Saucony for helping underprivileged children stay active. Peters wondered if a similar program could help sick or hurting children reach fitness goals while in the hospital.

Standing outside OLOL Children’s Hospital are some of the members of the team spearheading the Believe It Achieve It program, including OLOL Foundation specialist Courtney Bowen, Varsity Sports owner Jenni Peters, GMFS director of community outreach Michael Hackett, GMFS president Tee Brown, OLOL Children’s Hospital vice president of patient care services Laurie Schulenberg, and physical therapist/supervisor of physical medicine Ashley Fogle. Courtesy Jenni Peters

“What can you do to get them active?” Peters says. “When you get out even for a 15-minute walk, it clears your head and makes you feel so much better about things. It’s movement and fitness and hope and improvement in attitude and confidence. All the things that it does for anybody else, I think it would really be helpful for kids in this situation.”

In early 2020, Peters ran into OLOL Foundation team member Teddi Hessburg, who took her immediately to Ashley Fogle, a physical therapist and OLOL Children’s Hospital therapy department supervisor.

As they developed the initial ideas behind the campaign, Tee Brown, president and CEO of GMFS Mortgage, heard about it and wanted to help. Brown donated $7,000 to purchase more shoes and incentives, says Peters. “We’re thrilled to be able to be a part of it and looking forward to continuing to see the program expand into other areas,” Brown says.

The Believe It Achieve It campaign debuted in September 2020 and to date has awarded 39 pairs of Saucony sneakers to patients and nurses and countless T-shirts, drawstring bags, hats and blankets, Fogle says.

The program has been a literal lifesaver for those children who may be in the hospital for surgery, cancer treatment, orthopedic injuries or chronic health conditions who need to get moving to improve their condition and go home. Their activity tasks are different and based on each patient’s needs. “It may not be getting up and walking in the halls,” says Fogle. “It just may be sitting up on the side of the bed or brushing their teeth for the day or getting to the bathroom. Those tasks may be huge to some kids. The program looks different depending on which type of patient we have.” 

The first patient champion to earn Saucony shoes was Bryce Moore. Courtesy Ashley Fogle

Patients earn checkmarks on their goal sheets each time they accomplish specific goals and ultimately are rewarded with prizes. It’s important for pediatric patients to still feel like children, and that’s why the hospital has incorporated fun and play into daily tasks, Fogle says. “The reality is, it’s just hard … so to be able to use this program as an incentive and have them work toward something, it’s really just made the biggest difference,” she explains.

The campaign was expanded to provide incentives for not just patients but their nurses, therapists and child life specialists who work to normalize a child’s environment in hospital. Each time a patient gets a coveted checkmark next to their goal, the nurse or staff member also gets a checkmark. The nurse on each of the four units who has the most checkmarks at the end of the month gets a pair of Saucony shoes. Of those four nurses, the nurse with the most checks is featured on a billboard with a patient.

Hayden and his nurse Anna Ellingburg were named the November 2020 Believe It Achieve It champions and were awarded their Saucony shoes in mid-December at Hayden’s “No Mo Chemo” party, held to celebrate the end of his treatments.

“We really wanted to have a campaign slogan that inspired kids to believe in themselves and believe in the fact that no matter what they’re going through, there’s still a way to be physically active,” says Fogle. “And if they believe in themselves, they can achieve whatever it is they dream to do.”