What is it like to be one of the millions of children hospitalized in the U.S. every year? Ask any parent of a seriously ill child and they will explain that it's beyond traumatizing. One California mom, however, is doing her part to ease the discomfort and give a boost of bravery to these kids - one hospital gown at a time.
Over a decade ago Summer Germann's brother was diagnosed with cancer, and despite a successful battle with the illness, later passed away due to a medical error. One Halloween he was stuck in the hospital - a place no kid wants to be when their friends are trekking around collecting candy. Germann recalls feeling sickened by her little brother's "dingy, pale yellow hospital gown that looked like it had been washed hundreds of times." He should be wearing a costume. To cheer him up, she painted his face like a zombie, which made him laugh and gave him a sense of normalcy during a trying time.
Years later, she watched her friend's daughter spend the holiday in a similar manner, wearing an ugly hospital gown instead of rummaging through a bag full of chocolate. That's when it hit her - hospital gowns make children feel even worse. They don't reflect their personality or bring them any sort of hope.
Thus, the concept of Brave Gowns was born.
She started a Kickstarter account to raise initial funds for the company, and investors were immediately impressed with her idea. Germann tells Babble that she began receiving offers in the millions of dollars (!!!) from people wanting to buy her company, but was torn. Although she wanted to make the gowns available to as many children as possible, she wanted the company to grow organically. The night before she was ready to sign everything away, fate stepped in.
"I got a call from a mentor that I hadn't spoken with in months asking where I was at with Brave Gowns. I had told him and he said, 'Don't do anything!'" She continues:
"Within four days I was standing in front of a group of doctors, lawyers, biotech engineers and was a guest speaker following the one and only [alternative medicine advocate] Deepak Chopra. They all vowed to help launch Brave Gowns and here we are still at it two years later. So I've learned never to give up."
The company launched in 2013 and now offers different styles for every kind of kid - from Mickey Mouse and superheroes to princesses and cheerleaders. The designs are printed on wrinkle-free, breathable material, allowing the kids to be comfortable and feel a little bit more like themselves. Each retail for around $37 and there is also an option on the Brave Gowns website to gift a gown through the Starlight Organization for just $25.
The response to Brave Gowns has been overwhelmingly positive with parents, doctors, and the kids themselves sharing heart-warming stories with Germann about how they made a difference in the life of a terminally ill child.
"At a time when many kids' bodies, physical appearance, and self esteem are ravaged by cancer and their associated treatment, Brave Gowns provides a wonderful source of comfort, joy, and much needed fun," radiation oncologist Paul Y. Song, MD (also husband to actress Lisa Ling) explains. "It also makes access to wounds and IV ports much easier for health care providers. Above all, it is a very thoughtful solution for a very vulnerable patient population."
Jennie Burke, whose son Benjamin has been battling cancer for over a year, can attest to the power of Brave Gowns. Her boy was gifted one by a family friend who knew just how difficult a hospital stay can be, and it was a game-changer.
"Benjamin was especially excited to wear it on our last ER trip. As we were packing up for what could have been either a long night in the ER or possibly an admission Benjamin told me don't forget to pack my 'tuxedo,'" she recalls to Babble.
"I was thrilled at that moment to have something that was distracting him from the horrific pain and sadness he was enduring. Benjamin was so proud to wear his Brave Gown and it was such a hit with many doctors and nurses who had not seen them before. Of course, that got me to thinking that we should do something to get more of them in the hands of other very sick kiddos at Lurie Children's Hospital."
While Germann is blessed with photos of kids wearing her gowns, there is one image that "melts her heart every time," reminding her how much of a difference they make.
"Miles is wearing a superhero Brave Gown and his teddy bear is wearing a cape," she says. "I think that was the moment that I really understood how miraculous Brave Gowns really are. These children really are superheroes. They deserve to be as happy and comfortable as possible. This [is] me just getting to do my part."
If you would like to do your part and gift a Brave Gown to a sick kid, visit the Brave Gowns website.
More on Babble:
Utah Family's Touching Story Highlights the Importance of Special Needs Adoption
18-Year-Old Seeks Custody of Little Sister After Both Parents Pass Away Within 14 Months
How We Let Go of "Normal" When Our Three Sons Were Diagnosed with ARND