Building Blocks of Recovery

Building Blocks of Recovery

Lego fanatic! So many kids are these days, but my son James epitomizes the title. My daughter loves them, too, but he eats, sleeps, and breathes Legos. So of course “Art of the Brick” at Cincinnati Museum Center was top on the to-do list this past holiday season.

As James gazed at the “Mona Lisa” translated into Lego bricks, my mother fell into conversation with another grandmotherly type. It turned out she had once been a Child Life volunteer at Cincinnati Children’s, and she was fascinated with my mother’s tale of how we used Legos to help James recover from open heart surgery. He was fighting endocarditis (bacteria growing in the heart), and it had damaged his pulmonary valve to the extent that it had to be replaced.

We are familiar with heart surgeries— he was born with tetralogy of Fallot and the surgery this past April was the third in his twelve-year-old life—and one of the challenges after such an event is getting the patient up and moving. Digestion, breathing, mobility, stamina… all have to be coaxed and encouraged to emerge from the anesthesia to get working properly again.

So we planned ahead. Our family gathered Lego kits of different sizes, and the day after surgery, James was in a chair with his bedside table in front of him, slowly but surely putting a small Lego together. He improved each day, his lungs filling with air from being upright, his fingers getting surer, fitting the Lego bricks into place and making something amazing. He was sitting up longer and longer, the constructions getting more complicated as his strength grew.

The countertop in the room soon filled with the masterpieces, and each visitor (many of whom brought even more Lego kits!) was invited to tour the gallery of dragons, cars, and famous buildings, with doctors checking each morning on rounds to see what had been added since the previous day.

Each day a specialist from Child Life would check in on James, admiring his constructions and checking to see if his pajama shirt was covered in fish or M&Ms or Lego mini figures.

Child Life does a wonderful job at Cincinnati Children’s, bringing movies, books to read, coloring books, toys, and yes, even tubs of Legos to patients. They help families as well as patients, because everyone is in that bubble together. They sit with patients during procedures, too, well-armed with iPads and access to great videos, ranging from cartoons and favorite shows to videos of squirrel-slinging birdfeeders. They help keep the patient calm, still, and gently giggling.

So when the grandmotherly lady in the “Art of the Brick” heard our story, she urged us to share it. She said her days as a Child Life volunteer had been some of the most rewarding years of her life, and she knew that any aid, whatever the size, to a child’s recovery was worth knowing and sharing to help other children and families in similar circumstances.

This past holiday season, as we viewed dinosaurs and Easter Island heads made of Legos and thought of the 3,000 new Lego bricks that had just come into the house for the continuing construction of imagination, we were prompted to remember: Small comforts, whether made of plastic or caring goodwill, go a long way to helping a child recover from surgery and get back into their lives!

Editor’s note: Because our Child Life specialists use Legos so frequently, we’re always in need of more! If you’re interested in donating them, follow this link to learn more. 

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Jennifer Dickson

About the Author: Jennifer Dickson

Jennifer Dickson is a private French Horn instructor and stay-at-home-mom in Anderson Township. Born in Georgia, she attended the University of South Carolina where she met her husband Jim in the Carolina Marching Band. They have lived in the Midwest for almost twenty years and are thoroughly enjoying Cincinnati.

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  1. Terry Betts January 21, 22:10
    Leg is are the world's greatest invention for kids! One great tool is "PLEY" (, which is a monthly subscription for Lego kits. Like Netflix, one chooses kits on line, and they are mailed to you one at a time. You build the kit, take it apart, put it and the instructions in it's bag and pre-paid envelope and mail. As soon as Pley receives the kit, the next one is on it's way. My son has built up to four kits a month, saving us not only $$$, but storage space as well!