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7-year-old patient 'distracts doctors' with addicting game during hospital stay

Ava Schmidt has seizures so she checked into Helen DeVos Children's Hospital to be evaluated. A game she created led to a challenge between doctors & nurses.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Few people actually enjoy hospital stays, primarily because there's a lot of stress. Patients lay in their rooms wondering, 'What's wrong with me; when will I feel better; when can I go home.'

A recent stay for a first grader at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., involved a whole lot of shots. Not the kind you get in the arm. Instead, the kind that's featured in a game, which caused just about every doctor and nurse on the 6th floor to become addicted to playing it in her room.

In early April, 7-year-old Ava Schmidt's reoccurring seizures started getting worse. Her parents decided to bring her to Helen DeVos Children's Hospital to be evaluated.

"I've been in the hospital for six days," Ava, 7, told 13 ON YOUR SIDE via Zoom.

Figuring her visit wouldn't be short, Ava brought a game with her that she created herself.

"It's called, 'Ava's Animal Game,'" she said.

It involves several small plastic toy animals, trees, rocks and bushes, and a Nerf gun with foam bullets. She places the toys on the window ledge in her room, stands about 10-15 feet back, then fires the Nerf gun at the toys, attempting to knock them down.

"You get one point for knocking down an animal, but you lose a point each time you hit a tree, rock or bush," Ava said. "That makes the game more challenging."

She grabbed a dry-erase board and a marker and created a sign, inviting whoever was walking the hospital halls to come in her room and play with her.

What she didn't expect was for just about every doctor, nurse and child life specialist to commandeer her room to play the game.

"The word spread throughout the whole hospital," said Molly Gering, who is one of the hospital's child life specialists. "It got competitive really fast."

For all six days she was a patient, Ava's room was chock full of medical personnel. They weren't there to take her temperature or draw blood. Instead, they grabbed Nerf guns and turned room 605 into a shooting gallery.

It developed into a heated battle pitting the nurses, doctors and child life specialists against each other.

"I made a leaderboard on my room window," Ava said. "When the nurses and doctors came in to play, they'd write their new score on the window."

At some times, there'd be five or more nurses and doctors in her room competing.

"When you're working and you walk by her room and you see the leaderboard and that your team's score is going down, you got to go in and try to do better," said Molly. 

From 7 o'clock in the morning until 2 o'clock the following morning, 'Ava's Animal Game' was being played. 

Ava was enduring sleep deprivation treatment during her stay, so being awake until well after midnight each night was common.

"The thing about the nurses is they work around the clock," said Molly. "They can sneak [into Ava's room] whenever they want to up their score."

In the end, the nurses took first place, beating the child life specialists, 413-373.

Ava was discharged on Thursday, April 15. She'll continue with out-patient therapy. 

Credit: Spectrum Health
Ava Schmidt (center) poses with two medical personnel from Helen DeVos Children's Hospital. Doctors and nurses couldn't stop playing her Nerf game.

Oh, the answer is yes - she took her game home with her. 

"She's kind of set this foundation of a really cool idea that we can incorporate in other patient's rooms," Molly said.