INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – When children go to the hospital for surgery or an operation, many times they don’t know what to expect. It can be a scary experience.
But one local woman has come up with a way to make hospital visits just a little easier with a stuffed animal she calls “Mooky.”
The Mooky Project aims to give sock monkeys to all the kids at Riley Hospital for Children. Mooky is their friend and partner through thick and thin. It’s meant to spread love and joy, but it started through pain and heartbreak.
A drunk driver drove Pebbles Wireman off the road in 1991, the summer before her senior year in high school. She suffered serious brain injuries from that crash that still affect her to this day.
Fast forward several years later to 1995—Wireman was going to school at Indiana Wesleyan University. One day while she was driving, she was t-boned by another driver. That crash caused the injuries she received four years prior to get worse, and she also suffered a traumatic brain injury. After several months in the hospital, doctors diagnosed Pebbles with pseudotumor cerebri. It’s a disease that mimics symptoms of a brain tumor.
“So, at that point in my life I had to decide if I was going to give in to my health or continue to fight,” said Wireman.
Wireman underwent countless surgeries and procedures. When her health declined, she lost her scholarship to IWU. Some doctors even told her she probably couldn’t finish school because of her diagnosis. Along with the brain disease, Wireman also has chronic daily migraines that affect her ability to understand and retain information.
“I thought it was a chapter in my life that I would never see again,” said Wireman. “I worked, but over the years my health continued to get more challenging.”
Mooky came into her life during her darkest days. She received Mooky on her 38th birthday, one of the many special occasions she spent at the hospital. That little sock monkey changed everything for her.
“I had to have IVs in both of my hands and when she put the IV in, she put a cute Band-Aid,” said Wireman. “Well, then she put a Band-Aid on Mooky to represent the Band-Aid that I had. And it was cute, but then I would bring Mooky to every time I went to the hospital, he came with me.”
Soon, Wireman says it turned into a little competition between nurses and other staff.
“They’re like, ‘Last time this one did this, let me see what I can do this time.’ So, it actually built a relationship with me and the nurses and the other staff,” Wireman explained. “And so, beyond the part that he was there was there with me through the treatments, it also helped me forge a relationship with the staff and nurses and doctors.”
Fast forward a few years and Wireman is proving her doctors wrong.
She graduated from IWU with a bachelor’s degree in communications with a minor in human services. She did that despite countless doctors’ visits, hospitalizations, and procedures. While working to finish her degree, she underwent five major surgeries. Still, she kept fighting.
As fate would have it, Wireman took classes at the Wesley Seminary for her graduate studies. One of her first assignments for her Teaching for Transformation class was to figure out a ministry context.
“Pebbles right from the start said children in the hospital are my ministry,” said Colleen Derr, Wireman’s professor and President of Wesley Seminary. “[She said] Those are the people that I’m called to serve, I’m just not entirely sure how.”
That’s when Wireman remembered her time in the hospital and she got the idea: Shouldn’t every child have a Mooky? That's when the Mooky Project was born.
Wireman said Mooky had been a source of comfort for her during her journey of medical challenges. She wanted all children to have that same comfort she got from her stuffed monkey, and to help them realize they aren’t going on this adventure alone.
So with the help of Derr, she set out on a journey to achieve that.
At first, Wireman wanted to give out five or 10 Mookys to children at Riley rach year, but Derr told her to think bigger.
“What if you think that God could probably do a lot more than five Mookys a year,” said Derr. “So, it’s amazing really when you think about it. That the Lord brought her together, with me, in our class, at that moment in time and really this seed of an idea, this birth of a dream, that was able to be developed into this full-blown project, this full-blown ministry that is Mooky.”
That was in May. To date, The Mooky Project has given more than 500 Mookys to children at Riley.
Jodi Bauers is a Child Life Specialist at Riley. She frequently uses stuffed animals, like Mooky, in her practice.
“I was working on the weekend I had a little girl who was about three, who really didn’t like the hospital,” said Bauers. “It was her first hospital experience, she was scared and didn’t really know what do expect and the nurses knew that at some point they were going to have to start an IV.”
Bauers says the nurses working with that little girl brought in everything they needed to start an IV on Mooky first to ease the little girl’s nerves.
“So,they did a little IV on Mooky, they looked at Mooky’s veins, they found they found the veins,” said Bauers. “Actually, her whole experience was so much better because she’d already experienced what is was going to be like on Mooky.”
“She kept her monkey with her and would tote him around at times,” she continued “But that’s what really helps kids learn and grow, and really understand what’s going on when there’s really not words for it.”
Today, Wireman continues her fight for her health with Mooky by her side. She says the everyday challenges she goes through are easier thanks to the stuffed sock monkey.
“The big part about Mooky that makes such a difference is when you go to treatments or surgery, and you have to leave all your loved ones behind and the tears are beginning—you feel like you’re alone but Mooky goes with you,” said Wireman. “So, as you go to surgery, when you come out of surgery and you’re in recovery, Mooky’s right there with you and he has the same bandages on him that you have. So, you feel like you’re not alone in the whole process.”
And that’s what she hopes to give to other children with the Mooky Project.
“Every child in life battles something, whether it be a loss, whether it be a kid bullying them, whether they go through treatments in the hospital,” said Wireman. “Whatever they go through, every child goes through something. And although this represents a journey in the hospital, each Mooky will represent a child’s journey, whatever it is.”
Wireman donated 300 Mooky dolls to children at Riley on Christmas Eve and even more on Valentine’s Day. She says it’s hard to be at the hospital on regular days, but holidays and special occasions are especially hard.
She's always looking for sponsors for Mooky dolls for children. If you would like to learn more about the project, click here.
The Riley Cheer Guild also accepts donated toys and other items to give to children at the hospital. For more information, click here.