'One child said this is the first time he didn’t feel forgotten.'

Christmas for children in treatment at MUSC’s Institute of Psychiatry can prove especially trying.

They ask their nurses if Santa Claus will find them. They miss the tree and decorations that aren’t safe to display on the unit. And some feel even more isolated from their families and friends during the holiday season.

“It’s very stressful,” said recreation therapist Holly-Ann Boyle. “There’s a lot of oversight, and when people give at Christmas, they support the children’s hospital but don’t always think of us.”

That changed this year at MUSC, thanks to an 8-year-old Myrtle Beach girl. Brooklyn Lomas first came to MUSC for help with anxiety, which started when she was just 5 years old. Statistics show that as many as one in eight children suffer from an anxiety disorder.

Her mother, Melissa Lomas-Deafenbaugh, started the Bee Strong Foundation – Bee is Brooklyn’s nickname – to raise money to support youth with psychiatric and neurological illnesses and to raise awareness and reduce stigmas associated with certain medical conditions.

Brooklyn (far right) and her mother, Melissa Lomas-Deafenbaugh (second from right), join Institute of Psychiatry staff for a check presentation.
Left to right: MUSC Institute of Psychiatry staff Dr. Jeff Cluver, Dr. Mary Ladd, Holly-Ann Boyle and Gina Skrobola join Melissa Lomas-Deafenbaugh and Brooklyn Lomas for a check presentation. 

The Bee Strong Foundation hosted a golf tournament in Brooklyn’s honor last year and raised $8,000. After providing support for several local families, Melissa had $1,500 remaining. She talked with her daughter about how they could help children at MUSC, where Brooklyn receives care from several departments. 

“I asked Brooklyn, ‘What do you want to do with the money?’” Melissa said. “For us as a foundation and for me as a mom, I’m trying to show her that yes, you have to deal with this stuff, and yes it’s really bad some days, but it can be a whole lot worse.”

When Brooklyn learned that some children would spend the holidays at the MUSC Institute of Psychiatry without a Christmas tree or gifts, she wanted to make their stay a little brighter.

Brooklyn loves playing with Legos, watching Life Hack videos on YouTube and coloring in the Child Life Atrium when she stays at MUSC. Children receiving treatment at the Institute of Psychiatry cannot access the atrium, so when her mom asked how she wanted to use the money, Brooklyn asked to provide presents specifically for them.

Thanks to her gift, 26 children received gifts on Christmas. Staff members shopped for everything from self-care hygiene items, book bags and cozy socks to therapeutic stress balls, coloring books and plush toys – and then dressed up as elves to deliver the packages.

Boyle, the recreation therapist, described the experience as her most emotional Christmas in her five years working on the unit.

“We were able to get as close to their wish lists as possible,” Boyle said. “One of the kids – it was really profound – had never received a gift for Christmas. One child said this is the first time he didn’t feel forgotten.”

Brooklyn Lomas provided gifts for children who spent Christmas at the MUSC Institute of Psychiatry. Photos provided

Brooklyn’s gift not only provided presents but soft building blocks that the staff fashioned into a Christmas tree. Those blocks now live on the unit for therapeutic play and team-building exercises. 

For Melissa and Brooklyn, those moments of happiness – of feeling like a child – were the whole point.

“For us, MUSC has literally changed our lives,” Melissa said. “We just wanted to make sure the money was helping kids like her.”