LEE COUNTY, Fla.- There's a new mascot at the Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida helping young patients 'come out of their shell,' but it's the men who created it that make the character so special.
Bob Storms and Frank Haskell are friends and neighbors, brought together by tragic loss. They both lost daughters to cancer. Haskell founded Barbara's Friends in honor of his daughter who died about 18 years ago. Storms is a professional illustrator and they brought their talents together to create Palmer the turtle.
The mascot is there to comfort young patients going through their toughest moments.
Haskell says they realized the children's hospital and Barbara's friends didn't have a mascot, so the kids chose a turtle. Palmer is copyrighted and trademarked, and has many features that make him special for young patients.
The turtle has white gloves like nurses, a bald head to comfort patients going through chemotherapy, and a zipper to teach them to break out of their shells.
Haskell says Palmer is now a household name around the hospital. "It's almost like a dream come true in my opinion. A child who has cancer, it's devastating to the family and the siblings and when you hear the word your child has cancer, that is a tremendous shock. The patient, when she or he comes here, very often they're afraid, they're scared, they don't know how to act."
He adds, "the kids love Palmer- soft and cuddly, indictiative of how we feel about the children. We love them dearly and hope they love Palmer as well. We lost one child but we feel Barbara's Friends has given us friendship with a lot more children. It always gives me a great pleasure to see them hugging it and bringing it close to them and it's almost like it's a very good friend for them."
Storms says, "this is a character that belongs to me that I created for a reason, for these kids, that they'll have something thats totally different and it means a lot to me."
The kids in the hospital get to be part of the Palmer club, and can take the stuffed animal whereever they go. Storms has also illustrated books and coloring books, some dipecting what the kids would go through in the hospital.
Palmer stuffed animals are available at Lee Memorial gift shops for a $20 donation that goes to the Golisano Children's Hospital.
To learn more about Barbara's Friends, follow this link: http://www.leememorial.org/foundation/barbaras-friends.asp.