Rewriting Their Stories

It’s less than an hour before surgery, and Soumaila is taking deep whiffs from an oxygen mask that has been scented with cake batter. The mask isn’t hooked up to anything. It’s a replica that is part of a kit used by the child life department at Shriners Hospital for Children — St. Louis to help make kids more comfortable before surgery.

Soumaila is enthralled.

“Mama Amy! Mama Amy!” said the 10-year-old boy from the west African nation of Burkina Faso, thrusting the mask at the woman who has served as his host mom for the past two weeks. She puts the mask up to her face and smiles back at the boy whose leg the hospital is tasked with fixing. He slides across the hospital bed and folds himself into her arms. 

“Mama Amy” is Amy Nicholas, an Arnold, Missouri, resident who, along with her husband, Greg, has served as host parent to five children from across the world over the past three years. She is one of three host mothers currently shepherding international children through surgeries and follow-up physical therapy at the St. Louis Shriners Hospital.

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