UIHC pediatric patients who have lost an eye receive winking sock monkeys

A new project is uniting winking sock monkeys with pediatric patients who have lost an eye.

Julia DiGiacomo, News Reporter

Winking, handmade sock monkeys are the latest companions for young patients who have lost an eye at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics Ophthalmology Department.

The project, which began this summer, gives kids sock monkeys that wink in coordination with the patients’ removed eyes.

UI student and volunteer Kenten Kingsbury and UI Clinical Assistant Professor Audrey Ko were inspired to provide the sock monkeys while meeting with young patients and considering how to improve care.

“To see the smile on the children’s faces when they receive the monkeys really makes this project so meaningful,” Kingsbury said.

The stuffed animals are handmade by a volunteer group known as the Merry Monkey Makers, who distribute sock monkeys to pediatric patients across the UIHC. The group paints special winks on the monkeys for the children receiving eye surgery.

“I do think this is a really great community project,” Ko said. “A lot of people put a lot of work into making this happen and improving patient care.”

There are also sock monkeys of every eye color, so that the children can match their monkey perfectly. There are enough sock monkeys with every combination of right winks, left winks, and eye hues to fill up Ko’s and Kingsbury’s arms.

Colorful removable hats and vests also bring the stuffed animals to life. Ko hopes the kids will be able to change out their monkey’s outfits during subsequent visits to the Ophthalmology Department.

A handful of pediatric patients have now been united with their sock monkeys, with more to come in the next months.

“I think making the decision to remove an eye is hard for everyone, but it’s especially hard for parents of children because they have concerns and fears about what their child will look like afterwards, how it will affect their appearance, and how it will affect the child socially,” Ko said.

The sock monkey restores normalcy and provides comfort during a potentially difficult time for the children. Ko said the doll can also be used by parents to help explain the surgery to children.

An online resource, created by UI medical student Kelly Yom, is also listed on the tag of the sock monkeys in order to provide education.

Ko said the resource includes almost 20 interviews with patients of all ages and with various causes for eye removal.  Thanks to the website, people can learn firsthand from others about the surgery, recovery process, and life with an artificial eye.

“The sock monkey is for the child, but the online resource is for the parent. It shows photos of children without the prosthesis, with the prosthesis, how it moves, and everything like that,” she said. “A lot of times after the parents see this kind of information, they really feel much better knowing what to expect.”

Ophthalmic professional Lindsay Wagner-Pronk works with the young patients when she’s custom creating, designing, and hand painting their artificial eyes.

“What kid could doesn’t want a new stuffed animal?” she said. “But to have one that represents what they’re going through, I think it really is going to help them come to terms and maybe understand more that this is what’s happening and this is what they’re going to look like.”