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Kaiser Employee Wellness Project Brings Big Smiles to Little Patients

Kaiser Employee Wellness Project Brings Big Smiles to Little Patients

The smile on 8-year-old Natalie Phan’s face may just say it all: on the 28th day of her hospitalization at KP Santa Clara for leukemia treatment, she was presented with a hand-made cuddly bear. And she loved it.

“I think the photo captures her happiness perfectly,” says Kaiser Permanente Childlife Specialist Emily Heffelfinger. “Natalie had been here nearly a month, it was Valentines Day, and there was this adorable bear in her Valentines Day gift bag.”


While it was Heffelfinger who carted the gifts around to the long-term Pediatric Oncology patients at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara, the bears themselves were “born” in a “Live Well, Be Well” project that Health Education Assistant Michelle Hansen is making into a tradition at the Medical Center.

“Live Well, Be Well” is Kaiser Permanente’s national, award-winning employee health program that encourages workers to eat healthy meals, get exercise, and reduce stress.

“Last year at our Milpitas Medical Office, a “Live Well, Be Well” team stuffed teddy bears and donated them to the Milpitas Fire Department at Christmas,” says Michelle Hansen. “I thought, making these wonderful bears for the Pediatric Oncology patients would be a nice relaxing and community-building project for the “Live Well, Be Well” program here at Santa Clara.”

Michelle located an online source for the “unstuffed” bears ( and printed up “bear stuffing” recruitment flyers to be distributed by the medical center’s Wellness Ambassadors.

“The bear dolls have zippers on the back so it doesn’t require sewing skills to stuff the bears with the matting,” smiled Michelle.

It worked. She quickly recruited 30 “stuffers” from the nursing and administrative staff who spent two lunch hour sessions stuffing the bears.

“We had a great time stuffing and talking,” said Santa Clara resident Patricia Dykema, who is also in the hospital’s Workplace Safety department. “It was definitely a mental health break for my day.”

Childlife Specialist Heffelfinger set up a game of “Secret Admirer” to distribute the bears, leaving them in bags attached to the hospital room doors of the pediatric oncology patients.

Returning to Natalie Phan’s room later in the day, Emily found Natalie and her new bear friend in bed, enjoying a friendly game of chess together, surrounded by Natalie’s other stuffed animals.

Hansen expects to set up another bear stuffing event at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara later this year.


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