Meet brave Lulu. When little Lulu was just 22 months old, her mum Tash received a call from day-care informing her that her little girl had slipped on a toy and hit her head, sustaining a nasty gash above her left eye. Lulu was quickly whisked off to the family GP where it soon became apparent she would need the wound glued. Given the proximity of the gash to her eye, and the near impossibility of a distressed and hurting toddler keeping still, treating the wound then and there was out of the question. Their GP recommended they go to where the best care was – Starship’s Children’s Emergency Department (CED).

After an initial assessment at Starship, the doctor suggested a play specialist come in to support Lulu who was becoming more anxious by the minute. Remarkably, when Lulu was introduced to the CED play specialist, she became calm within a matter of seconds – meaning she wouldn’t need to undergo sedation to have her wound treated.

As Tash recalls, “The play specialist gave Lulu a little doll with pink hair, asked her what her favourite song was and started singing it to her.” In that moment, the power of play and the familiar rhythm of her favourite song transformed Lulu's fear into curiosity. Soon, anxious Lulu became calm enough for the team to glue her wound, almost without her noticing.



Lulu eating ice cream.

Play specialists are an essential part of the child healthcare team at Starship, supporting children and their whānau by using play to quickly form trusting relationships, help minimise stress and anxiety, explain medical procedures, build coping strategies and create opportunities for tamariki to feel involved in their own healthcare.

Play specialists tailor their approach to each child and family. This may involve using 'medical play' to explain procedures in child-friendly language and familiarise them with medical equipment. Children might even get to practice on a soft toy!

“The Play Specialist Service provides play programmes for children. These might be in one of the hospital playrooms, at the bedside or in a treatment room,” says Hospital Play Services Team Lead, Nicky Woollaston.

This is essential in an emergency environment where play specialists use play-based techniques to support tamariki undergoing procedures like suturing (stitches), intravenous line insertion or blood tests.This also helps to provide comfort and reassurance to the wider family during stressful situations, making a tough time a little more bearable.

Our customers’ support is helping to ensure play specialist support continues to be available seven days a week in CED. This is vital during peak times, such as evenings and weekends, which are typically the busiest periods in the emergency department – a space which has also seen a 25% increase in visits over the last year. Having a play specialist present helps to ensure procedures are as positive as possible and frees up other team members, such as doctors or nurses, to focus on the clinical aspects of their role while the play specialist supports the broader needs of the child receiving treatment.

Now two years old, Lulu is proud of her scar and loves showing it to people, shares Tash. And she still loves her little doll with pink hair. “I’m so grateful the play specialist was there to support Lulu and help her feel brave. It meant that she didn’t have to be sedated. I was just so impressed with how skilled, caring and kind she [the play specialist] was,” says Tash.

So, here’s to Lulu and all the courageous tamariki whose journeys are made a little easier thanks to Starship’s incredible Play Specialist Service. And here’s to our wonderful customers, whose generosity is helping to make tough times a little brighter for tamariki and their whānau.  

Your support can help ensure that vital services, like the CED play specialists, are available for ill and injured kids like Lulu, making a tangible difference in the lives of tamariki and their whānau across Aotearoa New Zealand.


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