Massage volunteers help pediatric patients and their families find relief

ronald-mcdonald-house-helps-kids-and-familiesFor families with critically ill kids, booking a massage appointment may never make it to the top of the to-do list. Amid surgeries, medical appointments and waves of anxiety, it’s not surprising that self-care slips. In an effort to make it easier to access, massage therapists offer free sessions at Ronald McDonald House Charities locations throughout the U.S.

Serving Patients and Families

“Ronald McDonald Houses are located close to major pediatric hospitals. We provide the lodging and anything else we can do to help make the family’s stay more comfortable,” said Kendra Ingles, director of house operations in Denver, Colorado. “These families come from all over the country, and all of them have a critically ill child.”

According to Ingles, the medical conditions of the children who stay in the houses vary, but she said children with cancer or cardiac issues, as well as premature babies, tend to spend the most nights away from home.


“The kids who need a heart transplant are there for up to six months, so I’ve come to know some of these families pretty well,” said Susan Clingman, L.M.T., one of three massage therapists who volunteer at the Aurora, Colorado, house each week. “The kids are usually at the hospital, so it’s mainly the parents and grandparents that I work on, and also the siblings.”

Volunteers Give Back

Ingles said massage has been a volunteer support service at the Denver and Aurora locations for more than a decade. She said it began with one massage therapist who wanted to offer free sessions and blossomed from there.

“This particular therapist came and wanted to give back his time. He actually got a table donated, so they don’t have to bring a table when they come to volunteer,” Ingles said. “Another one of our therapists came and stayed in Ronald McDonald House and actually had a son who passed away from cancer, and then he started volunteering here.”

NEW_RMHC_LOGO_ColorClingman began volunteering at Ronald McDonald House in 2007 around Thanksgiving. At the time, she had recently received a corneal transplant. It was one of 15 eye surgeries in less than 15 years—the result of a genetic condition called Stickler syndrome.

“I can relate to the families being far away from home and the amount of money they spend on health care,” Clingman said. “Volunteering to help these families puts my own medical problems in perspective.”

A Moment of Relief

Each Thursday, Clingman sets up her massage chair and offers 15-minute massage sessions for a total of four hours. She said stress and pain relief are the two main goals of every massage she gives.

“It’s mostly stress relief, but a bit of pain relief as well,” Clingman said. “I want to bring those feel-good hormones to the surface, so they can go back to the hospital and deal with it all a little bit better.”

Editor’s note: The February 2015 issue of MASSAGE Magazine will feature the article, “Pediatric Massage: Touch Improves Young Hospital Patients’ Quality of Care,” by Tina Allen, L.M.T., C.P.M.M.T., C.P.M.T., C.I.M.T.

About the Author

Brandi Schlossberg is an avid bodywork client and full-time journalist based in Reno, Nevada. She has written on many topics for MASSAGE Magazine, including “Build a CAM Network” (May 2014) and “More Than Massage: Expand Your Practice with an Advanced Credential” (August 2014).