By TESS KENNY
NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER
You look up.
Fiery red curls. Rosy cheeks and rainbow attire. A pink bow and cherry tomato nose. Quite the change of pace from your hospital room walls.
Treatments come and go, but sometimes a smile is all you need. And more often than not, clowns are the doctors to deliver.
That message was loud and clear at the Teddy Bear Foundation’s Little Heroes Breakfast on Thursday as more than 400 guests packed into the Hilton Beachfront Resort to laugh alongside keynote speaker Patch Adams, the noted medical doctor and clown.
Sold out for the first time, the sixth annual fundraiser brought together local medical providers, donors and loved ones to support families battling pediatric cancer.
The focus of the event was not only on raising funds, but also on encouraging hope. By featuring Dr. Adams, organizers inspired a different kind of healing.
“Kids can laugh when they hear his story,” said Kirsten Stuart, TCBF development and communications director. “We don’t want to send everyone out weeping. We want to send out everyone inspired. Patch Adams is a spirit of hope and goodness.”
Clowning in healthcare settings since the 1970s, Dr. Adams has appeared in 82 countries, countless hospitals, orphanages, five war zones and refugee camps. With his nylon suit and pocket full of tricks, he helps bring much needed relief everywhere he goes.
Even at the Teddy Bear Breakfast.
“Can you raise your hand if you’re hurting today,” he called out to the crowd.
A select few rose from their seats and gathered at the front. But Dr. Adams had another request to make before he could start a process he called “psychic healing.”
“If you want to be part of the healing team, come on up!” Slowly, loved ones and strangers alike surrounded the group, growing closer and closer as Dr. Adams spoke.
“Dear friends, we have come up here to love you,” he said. “To imagine that there is something that transfers from human to human that we haven’t yet measured before. We label it love, friendship, or spirit, and it can affect your suffering. These people and I actually want to take your suffering away at this moment.”
The healing began with a series of sounds as the group hummed, blew kisses and warbled as one, preparing them for the big finish – laughter. On the count of three, Dr. Adams led his team, and eventually the whole room, in a belly laugh too infectious for its own good.
When the laughter died down, Dr. Adams looked to the subjects of the circle, asking how they felt.
“Lighter,” one replied.
Determined to keep that feeling going, Dr. Adams pulled out his pièce de résistance – a whoopee cushion.
“The number one funny thing in the world is something my mother could not even acknowledge and that is farting,” he said.
With three different cushions in his clutch, sized small to large, Dr. Adams demonstrated his favorite one, what he liked to call the grandmother toot. Soon, a familiar sound rang around the room, spurring a fit of laughter bigger than the last.
Once his team of volunteers retreated to their seats, sufficiently pleased with their care, Dr. Adams took questions from the crowd. Though most asked for another round of grandmother toot or what other Mary Poppin wonders his pockets held, one took Dr. Adams back to where it all began.
“How do you take care of yourself?”
While a simple question, Dr. Adams’ answer had been years in the making.
After growing up overseas on a military base, Dr. Adams returned to the United States when his father died from war in 1961. Living in Virginia, Dr. Adams was surrounded by prejudice. By the time he was 17, Dr. Adams had been hospitalized three times for attempted suicide, as he didn’t want to live in a world of so much violence and injustice.
But then everything changed as he watched Martin Luther King Jr. deliver “I have a Dream” firsthand. Standing on the National Mall, he said to himself: “You don’t kill yourself. You make a revolution.”
Since then, Dr. Adams has not allowed himself to have a bad day, and he’s going strong 57 years later.
“I decided to live by six qualities every second of my life – happy, funny, loving, cooperative, creative and thoughtful,” he said. “You decide the human being that you are going to be.”
Those six qualities have not only shaped Dr. Adams but also Jolie Ebadi, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor and this year’s Little Hero Award recipient. Every year, TCBF recognizes one child that has battled and beat cancer, honoring their dedication and perseverance. Taking after Dr. Adams, Ms. Abadi was recognized for her humor all through treatment.
Dr. Adams even brought a smile to Jeff Zamora, whose son died of cancer 12 years ago. As Mr. Zamora pushed past tears to share his story, Dr. Adams raised his hands to the stage.
“I was sending him love,” said Dr. Adams.
In fact, everyone went home with their own piece of love – a clown nose, the perfect prop for Dr. Adams’ parting homework assignment.
“The next five times you’re in an elevator, make them laugh.”