That’s amore: making pizza in the Hemodialysis Unit

For Julie Bergeron, Child Life Specialist at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, making pizza is about more than just dough and toppings, it’s a therapeutic activity with countless benefits for patients. For the past three years, Julie has been organizing cooking activities for patients and families who spend long days in the Hemodialysis Unit on a bi-weekly basis. “Food is something that unites us, so having everyone participate in making something together leads to more exchanges between patients and promotes socialization,” she explains. “The cooking activity gives them a common theme to talk about, but also increases self-esteem, encourages team work, and also helps develop fine motor and language skills.”

Cooking up creativity

As a Child Life Specialist, Julie’s role is multifaceted. In addition to play, she uses a variety of educational and creative techniques to help improve the quality of life for children and their families who are hospitalized or require medical treatment, with the goal of normalizing the experience as much as possible. Cooking, she says, is a great way to do this because it’s not only fun, but contributes to building therapeutic relationships between patients, families, staff members and volunteers.

From nutritionally-appropriate muffins to cakes, Julie’s menu is adapted to fulfil patients’ requests as well as their dietary restrictions due to their medical conditions. Patients on hemodialysis need to limit their salt intake, so Julie discusses her recipes with the team’s nutritionist before purchasing any ingredients. Substitutes are sometimes required to ensure that sodium content is low, such as replacing the peperoni in the pizza with turkey slices. And while patients like to learn how to make new recipes from time to time, Julie says pizza is a group favorite that keeps coming back.

Engaging patients, families and volunteers

Julie plans her activities a month in advance, allowing patients and families a chance to get to know the schedule and look forward to special events. Thanks to the generosity of donors, she purchases all the necessary ingredients in advance in just the right amounts for each patient to participate. Despite the time it takes to coordinate and prepare an activity like this one, Julie says it’s all worth it when it comes time for patients to enjoy the fruits of their labor. “My absolute favorite moment is when we place what they’ve made in front of them and their faces light up. To be able to offer them that feeling of pride and accomplishment is very rewarding.”