Engineer finds happiness in children's hospital
By Louise Kinross
Emile Benyamin is an engineer who spends his days taking care of robots. His robots extract DNA from human blood and saliva, so it can be studied in research and clinical labs in hospitals. Emile travels across Canada to train scientists on the robots, and troubleshoot when there are problems.
But when BLOOM interviewed Emile, he had come in to Holland Bloorview on a Thursday night to volunteer with young children in our Ronald McDonald Playroom. “Emile is always down at the level of the kids, right in the thick of it all,” says Daniel Scott, who coordinates the playroom. “He’s very eager and hands-on with building or imaginative play.”
Emile's presence meant that the children’s parents could attend a talk about getting their kids, who have disabilities, involved in sports.
On Saturday mornings, Emile, whose three children are grown, drives in to the hospital from Richmond Hill to volunteer with inpatients with the most complex medical problems. Many, like Krystal above, use ventilators to breathe. Last Christmas Emile dressed up as Santa Claus on the unit. We spoke about why he’s so committed.
BLOOM: How did you hear about Holland Bloorview?
Emile Benyamin: I work in hospitals—even Sunnybrook is one of our customers. I love kids in general and I always wanted to come here to volunteer. I do a lot of work for SickKids hospital. When I applied to volunteer here, I had to get two references, and one was from a PhD I work with at SickKids. I’ve been working at SickKids for more than 10 years, and they know me well. When I joined here, I was so impressed with the hospital and the services for the children. That’s why I love it so much, and I wanted to give more.
BLOOM: What is a typical shift here like for you?
Emile Benyamin: My main shift is Saturday morning from 9:25 to 11:45 on the complex continuing care unit. We have a supervisor who runs a program—like art or cooking—and we usually work one on one with the children. Some are able to participate and others aren’t. But we still work with them, and hold their hands. Some of them we don’t know if they feel or hear us, while others hear and understand. If there isn’t a program, we may sit with a child at the bedside and read.
BLOOM: What’s the greatest challenge of the work?
Emile Benyamin: My focus is on how to make the children happy, how to comfort them, and most importantly, making sure they are safe.
Even though they are not speaking they are communicating a lot. They may smile. When one child is not comfortable, she will shake her head. We know something is bothering her—maybe she needs [her airway] suctioned, or she wants us to change the song we’re playing.
BLOOM: So you learn how to read their communication. You’re a very busy person. How do you make time to volunteer here?
Emile Benyamin: I don’t go to movies. This work is fun for me. Put me somewhere where I can play with kids. It’s my relief. It takes away all of the stress and hassle of thinking about work and problems.
BLOOM: What’s the greatest joy?
Emile Benyamin: I love the kids so much that I find myself very happy being with them. Because the children are weak or sick, I feel good about doing something good for them. I'm always excited to work with them.
BLOOM: I know this place can be like a ghost town on the weekend. How do the children on the unit benefit from people like you coming in?
Emile Benyamin: In my opinion, we do a very good program, and the program drives us. I’m just a part of it.
BLOOM: How did you get so committed to volunteering in the first place?
Emile Benyamin: I volunteer with a seniors’ home close to my house in Richmond Hill. I’ve been doing that for 10 years. I have so many friends there. I had one client who was a very good friend of mine who passed away last year. She was 96 and she had a very sharp memory. She would ask me to sit, so she could tell me stories from when she was four years old. It’s heartbreaking sometimes when I go and I don’t find someone I’ve been seeing for years.
BLOOM: Has anything surprised you about your work at Holland Bloorview?
Emile Benyamin: Yes. The staff are very well trained and they respect the kids so much. They really care about them.
For example, sometimes we do reading, and one boy’s eyes are usually closed. I was taught to put the book mark exactly where I stop, so that when the next person goes to read, they know where to start. I see a lot of respect in this. I’m trying to learn from the staff.
BLOOM: You mentioned that most of the volunteers are students.
Emile Benyamin: Yes. I’m the only old guy there. I love to see people of a young age volunteering. The community needs it and the children need it. When we have a new, young volunteer, I keep an eye on them, too.