AIDS: Something to hold on to

If you're a toddler and have the AIDS virus, you need more to hold on to than hope. That's why physical therapy students at the Health Science Center are sewing teddy bears in their spare time.

"This is catching on," said Pamela Stanton, EdD, chairman of the physical therapy department, who thought up the idea.

Project PT Hug-a-Bear has about 100 volunteers with a goal of giving teddy bears to children at San Antonio's AIDS clinics and homeless shelters.

Dr. Stanton started sewing a few teddy bears for children last summer at the Pediatric HIV Clinic at Brady-Green Community Health Center. She works there as a volunteer providing therapy for AIDS and HIV patients. Most of her patients range from newborns to 4-year -olds.

Dr. Stanton said the idea came to her in an odd way. She was playing with an 11-month-old boy whose parents had died with AIDS. Weaving a handkerchief in her hand, she did a puppet play to amuse him.

"He wanted that puppet so badly. He had nothing that was his own, just that handkerchief. He held it to his face and loved it," she said. "I began thinking: Every child has a right to a toy. Everyone has a right to love something."

She sewed her first teddy bear and talked to her students. The junior class in the physical therapy program took it on as a project. "I love to sew and I love children," said class volunteer Lisa Icke.

Jon Esmonde, senior class president and executive chairman of the project, requested $250 from the Student Government Association to buy material for the bears. "We had this great idea, but we didn't have the material or money," he said. The association donated $300. Then the students made $150 at a bake sale in October.

From there, the students began to recruit donors and volunteers who could sew. They gave away bears at a pizza party in December for more than a dozen children and their families. Other give-away events are planned for future months.

The clinic handles about 50 children on a outpatient basis. They arrive when their parent or guardian can take them. "Sometimes the parent's deepest hope is to be able to outlive their child. Sometimes that doesn't happen," Dr. Stanton said.

"I know I may not see this child again. I have to do my very best right now, and that's been so very rewarding. In my 25 years in physical therapy, I have never been more satisfied than I am now," she said.

Pediatric AIDS patients often have abnormal reflexes and trouble eating and sleeping. Dr. Stanton said they frequently have spasms below the waist and are flaccid above the waist.

She uses the bears -- they are all called "Dr. Ted E. Bear" -- to entertain infants and toddlers. Dr. Stanton also uses it to show the parent or guardian the best ways to handle a youngster with the physical problems associated with AIDS.

"I think the little ones feel pain," she said, "but they don't know the words to express it."