Sun, Sea, and Sand are having a profound impact on children with chronic illnesses in Perth, Australia– causing us to rethink what traditional healthcare can look like.

In Perth, Australia, a hospital is taking a unique approach to helping children recover from their illnesses. Instead of traditional therapy, the Perth Children’s Hospital is offering a surfing program that allows kids to get outside, enjoy the ocean, and forget about their health problems for a little while.

The program, called Surfing with Smiles, is a collaboration between the hospital and Surfing WA, a local surfing organization. It’s designed for children who are recovering from cancer, serious injuries, and other illnesses.

The sessions are run by trained volunteers who take the children out to the waves and teach them the basics of surfing. The children are given their own surfboards and wetsuits to use during the program, while medical professionals are also on hand to ensure their safety and health.

The program is completely free for the children and their families, and has already yielded some incredible results. 

Ruby’s Story

ABC Perth/Jackson Worthington

Nine-year-old Ruby Taylor is one of the first patients to go through the program at the Perth Children’s Hospital. Ruby has undergone more than 20 surgeries for burn injuries since the age of four, and the surf lessons have been physical therapy for her that also allow her to get out of the hospital. “Each time … I do the treatment, it gets better,” she told a local news outlet.

The benefits of the innovative program have even spread to the entire family. Ruby’s dad, Alex, also joins the lessons, which her mother noticed has made the treatment far easier for Ruby.

“It’s very segregated in a hospital setting,” her mother told reporters. “We have to leave our younger daughter at home when we go to the hospital, [but] at the beach, she’s down here, we’re all down here as a family.” The program has even invited some healthy competition and bonding in the Taylor family, as Ruby’s mother remarked “Ruby gets to show her skills because she’s better than my husband, so she’s very excited about [that].”

Surfing Makes You Smile

The pilot program has one individual in particular to thank for its inception– Joanna White, senior clinical psychologist at Perth Children’s Hospital.

After teaching herself to surf, Ms. White noticed the immense benefits it brought to her overall well being, self esteem, and mental and physical health. The ocean has long been thought of as possessing healing properties, and now emerging scientific studies are attempting to bolster the claim.

Anecdotally, Ms. White noticed that the first iteration of the program had great results for a group of patients with cystic fibrosis. “Surfing.. is fun, it’s playful, it’s exciting, it tests your limits at times, and helps you to face your fears,” she told reporters.

One instructor in the program, Harley Wardell, confirmed these claims, remarking how impressed he was about the change in patient’s confidence after time on the water. “As long as they’re smiling by the end of it, we’re pretty happy about it.”

Thinking Outside the Box Can Change Your Life

The Surfing with Smiles program at Perth Children’s Hospital is a shining example of how innovative programs can help children with chronic conditions heal and thrive. By providing a unique opportunity for children to get outside, be active, and have fun, the program is making a real difference in their lives.

The success of the program speaks for itself, with children and their families reporting a significant improvement in their recovery. It is inspiring to see how Surfing with Smiles is giving these children hope, joy, and a newfound sense of confidence.

Hopefully, the program can help us rethink traditional healthcare and rehabilitation. The natural world offers therapeutic relief that can not be found inside a hospital, and when paired with proven medicinal practices, constitute a model for care that is compelling and life-changing for certain patients.

The Surfing with Smiles program is not only innovative, but inspiring to a world of patients feeling bound by their conditions.

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