I REMEMBER the first time I met a Captain Starlight.
An extremely tall man in black-rimmed glasses dressed in purple and silver with some sort of sticky-out headband came to my son’s hospital bedside with balloons, bubbles, and a hilarious story about how he’d forgotten his dad’s birthday (you had to be there).
He made my son laugh and, after weeks of seeing my four-year-old confused and scared, enduring horrible treatments and missing home, there was nothing sweeter.
These magical people can be found in every major paediatric hospital across Australia and what they do is every bit as important as the medical side of things.
Starlight Day on May 3 will mark 25 years of the Starlight Foundation, and “CityNews” met up with Captain Excitable and Captain Neon from the Canberra Hospital to see what they get up to.
Permanently in character as trained superheroes from Planet Starlight with an invisible rocket parked on the roof, the Captains say they’re the antidote to all things hospital for sick kids.
Starlight has a strict policy that the Captains aren’t able to share their real names with media, so as to preserve their “mythical identities” for the children who look up to them – something Captain Neon obviously takes very seriously.
“I got my name when I was swimming in a lake through a rainbow, and the neon colours seeped into me, and now I glow in the dark,” she says earnestly.
“I’m a very dramatic person. When I sometimes go undercover as a human, I love to act in plays and perform, and that’s part of what I bring to my role as a Captain.
“I’m also a balloon artist, and I once made a tap-dancing spider. I try to make any balloon-related request and as a result I’m used to lots of pops.”
She says that as a Captain, you’re an entertainer and everyman.
“We just let the kids know we’re the escape from it all and they can come into the playroom on the ward and just forget about everything for a while.” she says.
“I love seeing the difference it makes; seeing a child smile and not be afraid.”
Captain Neon says she loves getting to know the kids.
“We go to day clinic, too, and it’s great to see kids that you’ve met on the ward and see them feeling better,” she says.
Captain Excitable agrees. “I love seeing a child go from being upset and not wanting to talk or be touched to smiling and laughing – it’s hugely rewarding,” she says. “Especially when they don’t want to leave!”
There are four permanent Captains at Canberra Hospital, each with their own special skill set – usually actors, artists, musicians or entertainers.
“We have a meeting in the morning, where we find out who’s on the ward today and who we can and can’t visit,” says Captain Excitable.
“Then we pop into each room and figure out what they’re into – magic, face painting, balloons, juggling. We do a ward round with little things like bubbles and stickers.
“I don’t know what it is about bubbles, but they seem to solve 99 per cent of all problems!”
More information about Starlight Day at starlight.org.au/WhatsOn/Pages/StarlightDay2013.aspx