Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit®

What is a smile on a child's face worth, especially if that child is ill and in the hospital? Yale New Haven Children's Hospital (YNHCH) knows how hard it is for children and their families to deal with an illness and hospitalization. That's why, in 1997, YNHCH was proud to become the first hospital in Connecticut to present the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit.

Funding for the Clown Care Unit at Yale New Haven Children's Hospital is provided through the Greenwich-based Garrett B. Smith Foundation. The foundation was established by Scott and Heidi Smith in memory of their son, Garrett, who was treated for cancer at YNHCH.

Special kind of medicine

Three days a week, a team of two professionally trained clowns come to Yale New Haven Children's Hospital and offer their own special type of medicine to the children, their families and the staff. They are the "Doctors of Humor, Laughter and Hilarity," as the clowns call themselves.

Humor offers a way for children to cope with the intrusive atmosphere of a hospital. As one clown said, "We don't do this because we get paid. It comes from inside of us. You see the corner of a child's mouth turn up and that's it. That's why we're here."

Roots in the Big Apple Circus

The Clown Care Unit is a community outreach program of the Big Apple Circus, whose co-founder established the clown program in 1986 in New York after losing a brother to cancer. There are now 17 such programs in children's hospitals across the country with 90 clowns making more children and families smile.

Clown of the Year Award

Better known to sick kids and employees around YNHCH as "Dr. Chester Drawers," Leo Desilets was honored in 2005 with the first Clown of the Year award from the Annual Professional Development Conference of the Big Apple Circus Clown CareTM program. Desilets was chosen for the award over 92 other professional entertainers who work for the Clown Care program in 17 hospitals nationally. He was presented with a golden "Leonard" award - a rubber chicken similar in design to an Oscar.

Guidelines followed

The clowns never enter a room without permission, and they realize it's important to know when not to be funny. They follow all hospital policies and procedures strictly and work with staff, parents and procedures.