Famous artist, ophthalmologist team up so children can see ‘brighter’


Dr. Maling had a great idea for how to make the ophthalmology clinic more child-friendly.

Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, England, has about 180-200 children come through its ophthalmology department for eye-related visits every week. Sarah Maling, MD, a consultant ophthalmologist there, soon realized the waiting area and corridor was somewhat of a grim, dull place for children, and decided something needed to be done so that children wouldn’t dread coming in to see her.

“Can you imagine them sitting in the waiting room with all these people with macular disease who are in their 80s?” Dr. Maling said. “It’s a bit hard to have children who want to run around and make noise sitting in an eye hospital with lots of [older] people.”

(Photos courtesy of Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust)

Recently, the hospital was looking to make the waiting area for the ophthalmology unit more child-friendly, and Dr. Maling had an idea of what to could be done about it.


Stars align

Having three children of her own, Dr. Maling recalled reading “Danny, the Champion of the World,” by Roald Dahl and admiring the colorful characters by his principal illustrator, Quentin Blake. She thought to reach out to the The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, which was located just down the road from the hospital, for some pictures they may be able to hang on the walls in the department. The timing could not have been better: 2016 marks the centennial year of Dahl’s birth, making him a local hero with plenty of his characters advertised around the city in celebration of what would have been his 100th birthday.

To Dr. Maling’s surprise, she heard back from Liz Williams, Blake’s archivist, with news that Blake wanted to donate eight one-of-a-kind pieces of work for the hospital’s waiting room.

Ironically, Williams’ daughter had been a patient at the ophthalmology unit previously, so she had previously seen the grim sort of waiting area.

“We were hoping for a few posters,” Dr. Maling said. “Quentin Blake felt that was not enough and gave us these eight absolutely phenomenal pictures. This was just amazing.”

Starting conversations


Blake wrote a letter to the hospital expressing his sentiment of the ophthalmology unit being the new home for his work: 

“That these pictures are in a children’s unit is very appropriate and especially pleasing to me. I spend a lot of my time looking at drawings and I have a special pair of spectacles that lives on my drawing board which I never lose sight of. In fact, that’s not quite true, as sometimes they get in among the drawings and I spend ages looking for them!”

Understanding how careful Blake is in giving away his work, Dr. Maling felt honored that such a small hospital could be the new home of his artwork. The artwork included well-known characters such as Matilda, The BFG, Mr. Fox, and Willy Wonka.

Starting conversations

(Photos courtesy of Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust)In addition, the bright, familiar artwork does more than simply add an aesthetic component to the waiting area, but has also opened the door for more dialogue between families and between the physicians and children. Dr. Maling recounts a family looking at the pictures with the grandmother, telling her granddaughter how she used to read the books as a little child. “Watching people be re-excited about things with their children or grandchildren is something I just think is fabulous,” Dr. Maling said. “I’m a huge fan of getting kids to read and trying to get kids in eye clinics to engage in other things while they’re waiting. We get them to try and copy the pictures; it’s just nice to have them feeling a bit like we’re doing something for them. I think kids are quite often forgotten when they come to hospitals, and as eye doctors, we don’t always have a standalone pediatric eye unit.” She said the waiting area now feels a little bit more like home to the children.

The ophthalmology department is a full-spectrum unit which offers all eye care services including optometry, orthoptics, surgery, and medical care. Patients in the ophthalmology department can be as young as babies born up to 20 weeks prematurely.

“Even the teeny, tiny ones get to see [the artwork],” Dr. Maling said. “In fact, they get to see these pictures before they even are meant to be born.”

Impact on clinical exams


The paintings have also helped change the children’s perceptions of follow-up visits. Whereas in the past, children would “hate” coming for their eye visits, she now hears anecdotes of children asking their parents when they will be going back to see ‘The Picture Lady (Dr. Maling).’

Dr. Maling discovered that the paintings also served as a helpful component for clinical eye exams.

Sarah Maling, MD, (left) with Liz Williams, Blake's archivist (right). (Photos courtesy of Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust)

“It means there are things I can get them to talk about,” Dr. Maling said. “If you’re trying to work out whether kids can see or not, it’s much easier if you can take them out [to the corridor] and show them images that they know and say, ‘What can you see?’, ‘What color is his jacket?’, and that sort of stuff. It’s really useful for that.”

“But to tell you the truth, the adults quite like coming over to this part of the hospital as well because it is brighter,” Dr. Maling said. “I think more than anything else, these make people smile.”


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