Hospital volunteer decorates radiation masks for children with c - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Hospital volunteer decorates radiation masks for children with cancer

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One volunteer is making it his mission to help ease the fears of child cancer patients.

Weiren Liu is a medical student at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and, in his free time, he decorates the masks children have to wear when they're undergoing radiation treatments to help make them more comfortable. The children pick whatever design or character they want, and Liu will make it.

Radiation treatments can be scary for adults and children. During it, people have to be secured down to the table by the masks.

Liu said he spends two to three hours designing each mask. He covers the masks with white tape as a canvas for him to draw the designs.

"I think being able to decorate the masks and do something cheerful, something that the patient likes, can help along this process," he said.

In a years time, Liu has decorated nearly 30 masks, which range from designs of My Little Pony and Minions, to scary crocodiles.

"A lot of the kids like the cartoon characters, superheroes. Superheroes are a popular one that makes them feel powerful during radiation treatments," Liu said. One of the masks he made was a Spiderman one.

His favorite mask so far was of a scary clown for a girl who said she wanted that because her mom was afraid of clowns, and she thought it would be funny. 

Five-year-old, Harper Stribe, is at the hospital for radiation treatment five times a week for a cancerous tumor discovered in her cheek. For her, Liu decorated a My Little Pony mask of her favorite character, Rarity.

She said the mask helps her stay still, and the design makes her feel more comfortable.

"She's a seasoned veteran now after four weeks but, of course, with any small child it's an intimidating experience going under all that equipment and that obviously, the mask, does a lot to help ease her anxiety," Harper's father, Nolan, said. "It can be a tough course to go through and this definitely helps."

Liu said he was told that another young girl patient was scared and refused to get fitted for her mask. That was until she saw Harper's mask.

"She immediately agreed to be fitted for the mask if she could get a My Little Pony mask, so hearing that was something that really made me happy and really made me realize that what I am doing is good," Liu said.

The idea behind the masks came from Jana Grienke, the clinical department administrator of the Radiation Oncology Clinic of the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, who had heard of a similar program happening at a hospital in Canada. She reached out to current hospital volunteers for an artist and found Liu. Liu had previously designed an "All Things Iowa" coloring book for hospital patients.

Because of scheduling conflicts, Liu rarely gets to meet the patients he designs the masks for, but Nolan Stribe said he wanted to send his thanks for helping his daughter, and so did Harper.

In two weeks, Harper will be done with radiation and can take her mask home for good. Her father said she'll still have awhile until she's completely finished with chemotherapy.

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