It’s far from a new phenomenon, but pinball has shown how it can really play a significant role in aiding the recovery and treatment of hospital patients, and in particular youngsters.

Just recently, UK pinball owner Erdinch Degirmenciogl of the Pinball Mill was able to supply a Star Trek pinball to the Young Oncology Unit at Christie Hospital in Manchester.

The Star Trek at The Christie Hospital
The Star Trek at The Christie Hospital

The Unit is run by the Teenage Cancer Trust, the chosen charity of Northern Lights Pinball who supply and run the pinball element at the Play Expo show in Manchester each year.  They have worked with the Teenage Cancer Trust in previous promotions, and at the last Play Expo show the charity asked about getting a pinball into their dedicated hospital unit.

The Young Oncology Unit
The Young Oncology Unit

Lorraine Wright, the Teenage Cancer Trust Youth Support Coordinator at the Christie Ward, told Pinball News how they were looking for something to engage the young male patients and give then something new to occupy their mind during their hospital stay.

She said, “We recognised that something with a competitive edge generally gets their interest and David (another member of my team) suggested a pinball machine. The machine is fabulous.  It is already getting lots of use and everyone seems to love it!  It’s another opportunity for young people to get involved in something when they are here having their treatment – this is invaluable as it stops boredom and low mood and ultimately aids young people through their treatment.

The Star Trek in the Young Oncology Unit
The Star Trek in the Young Oncology Unit

This is probably the first such case of pinball helping with the treatment and recovery for youngsters in the UK, but it’s a well-known aid in the US where charities such as the Pinball Outreach Project and Project Pinball as well as several individuals and pinball suppliers work closely with hospitals and support groups to leverage pinball as a therapeutic and recuperative aid.

Nicole Anne Reik-Dunlap is the founder and Executive Director of the Pinball Outreach Project and is a volunteer at Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon.  She told Pinball News how she introduced pinball into the lives of patients at the Hospital and the effect it had on them.

She said, “We had two games at the hospital for almost a year and I came up with an idea for a program called Friday Night Lights. On Friday nights I would go around to the rooms inviting patients and their families to play pinball with me. A lot of the parents were excited for an opportunity to have someone engage with their child as most of them have been staying in the hospital for long periods of time.  There’s also a great physical component that allows patients to get up and out of their beds for a while. It’s a motivator for them.

Playing pinball with their children has brought further benefits beyond the purely therapeutic ones.  Nicole explained how she has seen “…parent’s having the opportunity to bond with their kids over something from their generation, something they can’t do with the video game consoles that you see at every hospital game room.

The remedial effects are easily seen as Jessica Thompson, Child Life Specialist at Randall confirmed.  She said, “Pinball provides a great opportunity for our patients and siblings, especially our older kids and teens, to engage in developmentally appropriate play, get out of their rooms and interact with peers, and forget about being ‘sick’ for a small amount of time.

Lori Mathios from Rady’s Children’s Hospital in San Diego, California, is another beneficiary of the Pinball Outreach Project’s work.  She also expressed how pinball helps both the children and their parents at such a difficult time.  “The pinball machines provided a much needed diversionary for our patients and their siblings, and allowed the parents to relive their own childhoods”, she said.

So if you have a pinball you could spare and maintain, you too could change the lives of countless children at a local hospital or therapy centre.  Pinball is all about having fun, and who needs fun more than children going through such an incredibly tough time?

After all, as Amber Chavez from the Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Department at CHOC Children’s Hospital in Orange, California explained, “Patients are able to take their minds off of being in the hospital and enjoy some quality time with their families. Thank you for making that possible and brightening up their day.


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