Johan brings out the joy of life

Queen Silvia’s Children’s Hospital introduced its first sibling supporter in 2009. The latest addition is Johan Forslund, who interned in the hospital during his studies and has now been given the chance to return there. We visited Johan at work to get a glimpse into his everyday life. Even now we can reveal that the Christmas gift we as Tamro employees waive for the benefit of the sibling supporters is a privilege to give.

“Sometimes it is almost overwhelming,” says Johan. “There is so much gratitude in all meetings with children and parents that I have not encountered before in other professional roles. As a parent of a sick child, it is difficult to devote time to the siblings, even if you recognise that the siblings need someone to talk to and interact with. I think that is why the support is so well-liked.”

The sibling supporters adapt their interaction and activities according to the child’s age and needs. The interaction takes place in the here and now but the positive effects last longer. Research has shown that siblings of seriously ill children can suffer from mental ill-health in adulthood because they did not dare to ask their parents questions. Having another adult with time just for them gives these children the opportunity to discuss the things they need and reduce their concerns.

“I try to meet the children on their own plane. Some need to play, others simply need to feel that someone is there with them, some want to talk. You have to adapt and support the child in the way they want. There is no age limit, but the child must be confident enough to leave their parents and feel secure with me as a person.”

The number of siblings that the sibling supporters take care of varies from one single child to fifteen a week. It is common for children to come back several times. Sometimes they will be taken on a visit to Liseberg or a sporting event, which gives the children memories of the stay that are not only linked to the sick sibling. Johan regularly visits the hospital’s different departments and the Ronald McDonald House, where many families live, to make sure they all know about the sibling support.    

“Johan came up to our department and asked if there were any siblings,” says Peter Wahlström, parent from Sundsvall. “It became a real haven for our healthy children to be able to spend time with Johan sometimes. They also had some fun tales to tell us around the dinner table. It broke up the isolation you feel when you spend the days in a hospital and gave new impetus to the situation.”

The feedback from parents on the play therapy at Queen Silvia’s Children’s Hospital, which runs the sibling supporters project, is that the sibling support provides breathing space and some rays of light in the midst of all the darkness. That children and parents, if only for a moment, can come out of their bubble and feel the joy of life again.

“Sometimes it’s the small things that make a big difference,” concludes Johan. “If a child does not want someone else to take their clothes hook at preschool when their sibling is in hospital, I can call the preschool and let them know. Then the child knows that the hook is there waiting for them and immediately feels better.”