For children facing serious medical conditions, the hospital can be a confusing and scary place. Unfamiliar people, weird machines, and strange sounds can be startling and uncomfortable. Which is why Shawn Kettner has dedicated her life to helping sick kids find understanding (and even have a little fun) while receiving medical care.
Kettner is the founder of Patient Puppets, a Canadian-based company that makes medical puppets to help children understand hospital procedures. Used in hospitals and clinics worldwide, Kettner’s puppets are hand-sewn and custom designed to mimic exactly what each child is physically experiencing.
The puppets are made of soft foam and fabric, which make them perfect for a snuggly hug whenever a child feels anxious. They also have strategically placed openings on their exterior to reveal features that help a child see what’s going on inside of their body.
As you might imagine, a lot of hard work and care go into making each puppet — which can take anywhere from 40-60 hours to make!
When the puppets arrive at the hospital, they each receive a name to help the kids feel like they have a friend in the process.
“They are named by the staff or the children,” Kettner shares. “Often the Child Life Department will have a ‘Name the Puppet’ contest or will name the puppets after a donor or special person at their hospital.”
Kettner began making her medical puppets 25 years ago, in 1992 — so it’s safe to say she’s a puppet professional by now. While working as a puppeteer and puppet maker at a regional theater in the ’90s, Kettner was asked to build medical demonstration puppets for the Winnipeg Children’s Hospital. At the time, her relative Ruth Kettner was working in the hospital and had a need for an imaginative tool to help explain medical procedures to children.
“Ruth’s role was to show children what had or what was about to happen to them in the hospital,” Kettner tells Babble. “She was trying to do this with dolls and stuffed animals, because at the time, there were no tools designed for the job.”
Local puppeteer Ron Wagman had come up with a basic concept for a medical demonstration puppet and shared it with Kettner. When she saw how great the need was for more puppets just like it, she took the concept and ran with it, creating her very own Patient Puppets.
“I took him [Wagman] and his puppet to the Children’s Hospital to meet Ruth,” she says. “She fell in love with the puppet and wanted not one, but seven puppets of her own. I filled that request and have been making and distributing Patient Puppets worldwide ever since.”
Since Kettner’s puppets share the same experience as the children they meet, the kids often feel more at ease with what’s happening to them. And that’s no surprise to Kettner, who notes: “When we are not afraid, we are more receptive to medical intervention, more willing to allow procedures…