Monkey business soothes the fears of a visit to hospital

Helen Sadler and her son Barnaby, aged five, at the opening of the new hospital unit
Helen Sadler and her son Barnaby, aged five, at the opening of the new hospital unit

A little monkey created by a mum when her daughter was poorly is now helping to make sick children better all over the UK.

Primary school teacher Helen Sadler and husband Daniel, from Glynde, were devastated when told their baby daughter had a rare lung complaint and would have to undergo major surgery when she was just 18 months old.

Helen was determined to make daughter Josephine feel less anxious about her hospital stay and came up with the idea of writing a story about a toy monkey who also had to go to hospital.

The result was a hand-made book with photos of monkey in the actual rooms that Josephine would visit, along with the equipment that she would see all around her.

Pioneering keyhole surgery for Josephine’s CCAM – a rare cystic lung complaint – was carried out at the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Brighton by consultant paediatrician Dr Varadarajan Kalidasan.

“Josephine was relaxed and positive,” said Helen. “She was excited when she recognised the machines and people that monkey had introduced her to.”

And doctors were amazed at how quickly Josephine – now aged nine – recovered.

“The feedback from the hospital was that they wanted more,” Helen continued. “So I set to work … and the Monkey Goes To Hospital storybook was born.

“The Royal Alex quickly commissioned a second edition of Monkey Has An Operation, followed by Monkey Has A Blood Test.”

Now Helen’s storybooks and supporting materials have been adopted by NHS hospitals and schools all over the UK to help improve children’s knowledge, health and well-being.

One of her latest projects – a monkey mural – was unveiled last week at the official opening of a new Urgent Treatment Centre at Crawley Hospital.