A Local 12-Year-Old Is Taking the Fear Out of Hospital Visits

Wendy Wooden, a frequent MGH patient, made a hospital guidebook for other kids.

Wendy Wooden

Wendy Wooden/Photo provided

By the time she was five, Wendy Wooden had spent 200 days as an inpatient at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children (MGHfC). Diagnosed at age three with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a condition caused by E. coli infection, Wooden suffered heart failure, received a kidney transplant, and had part of her intestine removed, all before most children start first grade.

During those touch-and-go years, she learned a lot: what the hospital’s like, how to spend your days there, how to befriend your favorite nurse. Years later, she’s sharing that hard-earned knowledge with the world.

Wooden is the brain—and voice—behind You Are Here: Wendy’s Welcome to the ED, a cartoon hospital guidebook that will soon be shown to every patient who enters MGHfC’s emergency room. The nine-minute animated video cheerfully answers kids’ common medical questions, from what’s in a hospital room to what a triage nurse does.

“Children who are coming into the hospital are scared and don’t really want to be there,” Wooden explains. The video may ease some of their fears.

Wendy’s Welcome was born when a neighbor had two kids in the hospital simultaneously, one for a planned surgery and the other for an emergency appendectomy. She called Wooden and her mother, Darcy Daniels, for advice, and an idea blossomed.

“Together, Wendy and I were like, ‘We actually really know a lot about the hospital.’ It had never really occurred to us,” Daniels remembers. “We said, ‘Why don’t we make a guidebook for the hospital so that when kids come in, they don’t have to ask all these questions? They can just be told what to expect.'”

The two began drafting a physical book, but were told that MGHfC’s emergency department would soon go paperless, and would need something that could be shown via iPad. The project stalled until Daniels posted about it on Facebook, and a friend from Payette, a local architecture firm, asked to see the transcript. Soon, Payette agreed to animate and produce the video.

Wendy Wooden

Payette’s interpretation of Wendy/Photo provided

The final product follows an animated Wooden—voiced by her real-life counterpart—as she strolls through the hospital, casually explaining what happens at each stage of a child’s visit. “There’s some things I don’t know about the hospital, even though I’ve been there for a long time,” Wooden says, “but I did know most of it.”

Today, Wooden is a healthy, active 12-year-old who loves soccer and swimming. Despite the medical knowledge she’s accumulated, Wooden says the field is more her speed than the hospital these days. “I’m not really into [medical] stuff. I play soccer and swim all the time, so I want to be a soccer star,” she says.

Still, Wooden’s illness has given her wisdom beyond her years.

“Every time I think about it,” she says, “I always feel grateful that it happened.”