Once upon a time, in a hospital not so far away, a princess came to spread joy to kids at Seattle Children’s. Wherever the princess went, smiles followed. For one little girl, seeing the princess was a dream come true, and soon – the patient and the princess – became the best of friends.
This is the type of tale that plays out each month at Seattle Children’s thanks to volunteer Chael Stenchever who wears many crowns, transforming herself into a variety of princesses before visiting patients.
Stenchever’s elaborate costumes are nothing short of magical. Just watch her walk through the halls of the hospital during one of her visits and you’ll see that a princess costume can truly brighten a child’s day.
For 8-year-old Daisy Hader, that’s the experience she has when Stenchever comes to visit.
“Characters and stuffed animals are Daisy’s world,” said Lolly Hader, Daisy’s mother. “Meeting the princesses in real life connects her two worlds together – fairy tales and reality. It’s truly magical for her.”
Finding a friend in a princess
Daisy has been in the hospital for nearly six months. She was transported to Seattle Children’s from her home in Montana for respiratory issues. She now has to be on oxygen 24 hours a day. The hospital has become a home away from home for the Hader family, and the princess visits have become a bright spot through hard times and long days.
“It means the world to us that the princesses want to come to see Daisy,” said Hader. “You should see her when they walk into our room. She immediately lights up with a smile from ear to ear.”
During one of Stenchever’s visits to the hospital, Daisy wasn’t feeling well enough to leave her room, so Stenchever made a special visit to her bedside. She brought Daisy a gift, a magical rose made out of paper to lift her spirits.
“She’s such a sweet little angel,” said Stenchever. “She’s one of the reasons I keep coming back. While I would really miss her, I also hope one day I won’t see her when I visit because that will mean she’s back at home.”
Firsthand experience makes a fairy tale come to life
Stenchever knows all too well what it’s like to be a patient in the hospital.
“I was in the hospital so much as a child that my mom and dad used to joke that I should have my own wing at Seattle Children’s,” said Stenchever. “I spent a lot of time there. I was a big fan of fairy tales and always thought how I would have loved for a princess to come and see me.”
And so, that’s where the idea first started. The idea then grew after her grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. Every day Stenchever would visit her in the hospital.
“When I visited her in the hospital, we would look at princess dresses online together and she encouraged me to follow my dream,” said Stenchever. “When she passed away only three months after being diagnosed, I decided to honor her by pursuing my passion of transforming myself into princesses in order to help make someone else’s day.”
It was not long after Stenchever made this decision that she began volunteering at Seattle Children’s. Through Stenchever’s involvement in the Miss Washington USA pageant, she knew the importance of volunteering and community service. To honor her grandma and to do good in the community, Stenchever used her elaborate costumes to bring fairy tales to life at Seattle Children’s.
“It’s really a special experience for me to see the kids smile,” said Stenchever. “I hope it’s special for the kids and helps to bring some joy to their day.”
Ask Daisy or her family and they’ll say that’s exactly what her visits do.
“Her visits mean the world to us,” said Hader. “The friendship she has formed with Daisy has had such a positive impact and really brightens Daisy’s spirits.”