Colorful crystals, jewels and gemstones drape and sparkle from the 10-foot ceiling, illuminating natural lighting off the open windowpane in Seacrest Studios, emitting sunshine for some that have only seen cloudy and gloomy skies.
The vocals of Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber echo throughout the lobby of the Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, N.C., inviting those who have seen the darkest of days. Stars line the outskirt of translucent glass walls, encompassing a facility with the potential to alter a patient’s life.
The stars don’t represent the ones we wish upon in the night sky, nor the ones that plague our television screens. These stars call the Levine Children’s Hospital their home; they live in the four walls, where they are injected with drugs, hooked to IV’s, and wear hospital gowns and surgical masks.
Open doors welcome children and family to Seacrest Studios, the television and radio station in the hospital where patients aren’t labeled by the number on their hospital wristband, or confined to the two metal wheels that keep them mobile. Patients are given the freedom to be children with no worries in the world, a foreign way of thinking for these children.
Six microphones are arranged in a row, offering patients a way for their voices to be heard –a place where their voice matters. “When we have a patient who is very nervous about getting a treatment or surgery, they see this place as soon as they come in as a place that’s fun, exciting and full of energy,” says Meredith Dean, the director of Seacrest Studios in Levine Children’s Hospital. “A place filled with music and laughter, it’s not something you always see in a hospital.”
Once the patients step through the doors, their faces light up. “They have a lot of anxiety coming in, but when they come into the studio and see what a wonderful and inviting place LCH is, they come alive,” Dean says. “Some of these kids come here very shy and scared to go on air, but when they gain that confidence, we can give them something that will last the rest of their lives.”
Patients dance their insecurities away, play games, and win prizes. Therapy dogs visit to lick away the frowns imprinted on the gloomy faces of those that haven’t smiled in months. Bedridden patients can call the studio from the phones in their rooms to talk on-air or request their favorite songs.
“We had a patient who had a stomach tumor who came in,” Dean says. “Once we put her on air she came alive. She hosted her own show and she’s only 8 years old.” Dean adds, “She found this as her job as she was meant to be down here and meant to do this show where she shared her wisdom with other patients.”
Cassidy Hunt, 18, was a patient at Levine Children’s Hospital and considers Seacrest Studios her home while in the hospital. “I visited the studio every day during my three-week stay at Levine’s Children Hospital,” she says. “Seacrest Studios was the only place in the hospital where I felt like a normal teenager, not just a patient.”
Hunt fell in love with the staff at Seacrest Studios. “The staff taught me it’s ok to just let loose and be quirky. They all have such great and genuine personalities, which I definitely think helped not only me, but other patients see that you can be unique and express yourself.”
After restless hours of being probed and prodded by needles and doctors, it is relaxing for patients to unwind after a stressful day.
In the walls of Seacrest Studios, Hunt is not just another patient with a medical diagnosis; she is accepted for who she is. “It showed me that no matter the situation or circumstances you can have fun and good days. There’s no rules or right or wrong in the studio, it’s a place where you can just be you,” Hunt says.
“Our job is to make this place as special and comfortable as it can be in a bad situation,” Dean says. “If we can bring that happiness and that glimmer of hope to at least just one patient who comes in and has the opportunity to be on-air, then we’ve done our job.”
Sitting off of the entrance of Levine Children’s Hospital, Seacrest Studios is positioned immediately after the automatic doors leading patients and families into the unknown. “It’s very unconventional for a hospital to have something as cool as a radio and TV station,” says Dean.
Families and patients are hit with an array of cheerful and vivid colors upon setting foot into a place that will ultimately change their life. “The whole hospital is very inviting, not cold and scary like a lot of other hospitals can be,” she says.
Hundreds of signed celebrity autographs and pictures line the back cabinets of the studio, ranging from music legends such as John Legend, Imagine Dragons and Ed Sheeran, to sport superstars such as Panthers QB Cam Newton and Olympic Swimmer Ryan Lochte, and most recently reality television star from Duck Dynasty and first runner-up on Season 19 of Dancing With The Stars, Sadie Robertson.
“Their experiences are more important than a celebrity,” Dean says. We want them to feel like they are the special person here.” The patients guide interviews with their beloved idols, play Disney Trivia or other games and hang out with the celebrities.
“Having a celebrity have a one-on-one visit with a patient is such an amazing part of one person’s day, but it could also be one of the biggest memories of their lifetime.” Dean says. “Memories they will hold of happiness, joy and hope. Instead of just going to a concert, they get to really talk to them and know them and understand them in a light that’s uplifting.”
During Hunt’s three-week stay at Levine Children’s Hospital she says, “My favorite memory was for sure meeting the Eli Young band. They had a great sense of humor and acted just like normal everyday people.”
The Queens University sophomore wants to give back to the patients, because she was once one of them. “I know what they’ve been through,” she says. “I’ve had so many needles stuck into me. I was basically a lab rat all through middle school.”
Suffering from Mitochondrial disease, Quinn says, “Most people with this disease are hospital-bound, they have oxygen tanks, tubes to give them food and supplements. “These kids are always in the hospital, so even though I look fine on the outside, I’m really sick on the inside. That’s why I wanted to give back to these patients and work in this environment.”
“Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.” The faint humming of the clock is an unfriendly annoyance haunting many families that endure hours after hours of nervously anticipating the idea of the very worst. Hours turn into sleepless nights offering no luck in sight, tormented by the pain their loved ones are suffering through.
“I think people don’t always realize that the siblings are affected just as much, sometimes more than the patients themselves,” Dean says. “The days can get really long sitting in a hospital room all day, but the siblings are able to come downstairs and do something really fun. They can just come down and they feel like they have a fun destination for them to go to.”
Dean witnesses a faint glimmer of hope radiate from the parents’ eyes when they step through the studio’s doors. Sometimes that little spark in their pupils leaves them thinking there may be a happy ending for their child. “Families have just as much fun and it helps the time pass by a little bit faster,” she says.
Quinn wishes Seacrest Studios existed when she was in the hospital during her dark moments of misdiagnoses and unknowingly anxious about her own fate. “I know what it’s like for the unknown. I know how scary it is, and not even having friends understand it,” she says. “It all comes down to putting a smile on their face, because they are so miserable all the time. I know exactly what that’s like so I know whenever one of my friends made me laugh at school it was the best part of my day, so I wish I had someone to make me laugh when I was in the hospital.”
Dean remembers a recurrent patient of Seacrest Studios who recently died. “We had a blast towards the end of his life and I know he had good memories here,” she says, still shaken and emotional over his passing.
Dean remembers the jubilant sprit this boy encompassed, “He came in kind of low and depressed and upset, but once he started lip-syncing and dancing, his face lit up with happiness.” Dean remembers Seacrest Studios was his and his families’ escape, “I know that their time spent here meant something to them. This studio meant something to them.”
Inside this magical and enchanted place unveils an electrifying atmosphere with the infectious innocence of a child, where one never grows up.
Similar to the story of Peter Pan and Neverland, patients aren’t restrained to the limitations this world has presented them. Seacrest Studios offers medicine money can’t buy – by helping patients and families leave optimistic, filled with laughter and happiness, with a sprinkle of hope, that one day their stay at the Levine Children’s Hospital will be a memory of the past.
As the day comes to an end, the final sign-off signals a farewell and closure of the studio, but serves as a reminder that tomorrow will offer more tunes, celebrities and smiles; ingredients to the magic medicine that Seacrest Studios brings to patients at Levine Children’s Hospital.
“Good evening Levine Children’s Hospital, You are listening to DJ Curly Q! We will reopen tomorrow! Give us a call at 6-Ryan or 67926 to request your favorite song or visit the studio for fun!”
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