Therapy clowns providing smiles to patients at Holland Bloorview

Stella Acquisto meets the therapeutic clown team at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and discusses the benefits of the program.

By Stella Acquisto and Meredith Bond

They say laughter is the best medicine, which seems to be the case at Holland Bloorview Rehabilitation Hospital.

Award-winning performer and former Cirque Du Soliel cast member Suzette Araujo, who goes by Nurse Flutter, and actor/acts educator Leo Dragonieri, also known as Caretaker Piccolo, are two of three “therapeutic clowns” at the rehabilitation centre.

“This is not a show. We are here in service of the clients. They are stars. They are the ones we focus on. It’s about them; they guide the play [and] they are usually the director,” said Araujo.

“We use tools daily, then we’re on the units, things like improvisation, imaginative play, music, slapstick comedy, here at Holland Bloorview.”

Their role has been integral to the Holland Bloorview care team since 2005.

“It’s not always about humour, often it’s just holding the client’s hand while they’re doing the procedure, you know, singing a lullaby to an infant who’s been crying for that image just stay there in quiet for a few minutes until they fall asleep,” said Araujo.

“We’re here to provide joy, laughter, and lightness, and we try to find the celebration of the present moment.”

Three days a week, the trio makes their rounds, seeing up to 20 patients per day, with their playful personalities, to reduce the stress of these young patients, especially when they are going through the unimaginable. According to a study published in 2011, therapeutic clowning has been found to have a direct physiological impact on children and a positive effect on their mood and well-being.

“It’s an honour to be in service of others and to use your creativity to help or assist or alleviate anything regarding their journey. Those things are priceless,” added Dragonieri.

On top of performing rounds at the centre, you can find the trio clowning around on Clown TV, an in-house production on YouTube. It was started during the COVID-19 pandemic when they couldn’t be in the room anymore, but it also provided a way for the kids to be involved.

“A lot of those scenes on the Clown TV, the client was the one that directed; it was their idea. We just assisted and worked our way around it; they were the stars again … It was a place for them also to have a creative outlet, a creative voice and to be on television,” explained Araujo.

Araujo said it’s an incredible feeling to bring some joy to these children’s lives.

“It’s a privilege to be with these families and part of their journey. We get to be a part of their memories, and hopefully, we can create fun and magical memories for them … I love what I do.”

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