Sibling relationships can be emotionally powerful and critically important, especially in childhood. When one child undergoes a challenging medical emergency or illness, it has a profound impact on their siblings. Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital has received generous funding to develop and implement an important Sibling Support Program to meet the emotional needs of brothers and sisters of children undergoing medical treatment.
The program, funded by the generosity of Sandra and Joshua Abrams, Fighting Children’s Cancer Foundation and Tommy Strong Foundation, will be managed through the children’s hospital’s Child Life department and include one-on-one therapy and group therapy, including bereavement groups and organized recreational outings. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, these sibling support programs will temporarily be held virtually.
Often when a child is chronically ill, siblings have feelings of guilt, depression or resentment. Child Life specialists work with healthy siblings, providing them with emotional support and therapeutic programming. However, requests for support often go beyond what is available. The Sibling Support Program will allow for a dedicated specialist to provide resources to expand this much needed initiative.
The services will be free of charge to families and will be available to siblings of oncology patients, patients who have passed away and chronically/critically ill patients.
Christine and Andrew Fitzpatrick, parents to Tommy Fitzpatrick (pictured with his brother Jack and sister Sophie) know all too well how important a Sibling Support Program is. Tommy, their young son who loved Star Wars, Legos and playing with his brother and sister, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2017. After fighting bravely for two years, Tommy passed away in February 2019, leaving behind a legacy of strength, smiles and purpose.
Inspired by their son’s strength, and harnessing the power of their community, the Fitzpatrick family created the Tommy Strong Foundation, which has supported Tackle Kids Cancer’s efforts to find cures for pediatric cancers and provide support to families coping with the disease.
“We learned firsthand that cancer doesn’t just affect one child – it affects the whole family,” said Christine. “Tommy’s brother and sister were a big part of his support system and he was happiest when they were by his side during treatment. It is a very difficult time for siblings too – they need support. Having a dedicated staff member to work specifically with them is so important and something that we’re very happy to help fund.”
The Fighting Children’s Cancer Foundation, an organization that provides needs-based financial assistance to families struggling with pediatric cancer, understand that a cancer diagnosis and its treatment affect the whole family. Often, they have seen the challenges that siblings face when supporting their sick brother and sister, when being cared for by someone other than their parent, when asked to be patient, to do without and to adjust without understanding what is happening.
Andrea Inauen, executive director of the foundation, shared that the board of directors looked at ways to address this unmet need, and creating a designated sibling program run by those with expertise in caring for the needs of children and siblings became an imperative for our foundation. “We are thrilled to partner with Tackle Kids Cancer and Hackensack Meridian Health on this initiative.”
We are beyond grateful for this incredible support from Sandra and Joshua Abrams, Fighting Children’s Cancer Foundation and Tommy Strong Foundation. We know this program will provide such essential support for siblings of chronically/critically ill patients.