Tracheostomy patients at Birmingham Children’s Hospital will be presented with a brand new mascot which looks just like they do, thanks to the efforts of two passionate colleagues from the hospital’s Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) and Speech and Language Department.

Raki The Raccoon is a soft toy which features a tracheostomy on its neck, mirroring the young patients at the hospital. A tracheostomy is an opening created at the front of the neck so a tube can be inserted into the windpipe (trachea) to help patients breathe. Raki has been created to help the kids to better understand their condition and, importantly, to have a toy which looks just like they do, so they don’t feel alone, isolated and different.

The new mascot is the brainchild of Aisha Hamzah, an ENT clinical nurse specialist at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, and Jo Matthews, a senior speech and language therapist. The colleagues care for many young tracheostomy patients and are constantly looking for ways to improve the hospital experience for them and their families.

Aisha explains: “Working day-to-day with tracheostomy patients, we noticed there was a need for more family-friendly information to be made available for new patient families, to help them understand the journey they are about to embark on. This is where the idea of Raki The Raccoon – a mascot – was born. We realised that Raki could be something our young patients could relate to, as it looked like them, and it could also be used as a tool by us and their parents, to explain their treatment.”

The mascot has been designed by Nick Hardman, who owns toy-making business, 3D Toy Shop, based in Leeds. Nick specialises in using 3D print and design to create accessible toys for children to help understand and normalise medical conditions. Aisha came across Nick’s work after seeing a patient who was carrying a teddy bear with a tracheostomy, which their parents had commissioned. She contacted Nick, who was thrilled to get involved in the project and worked closely with Aisha to get the design and feel of Raki just right.

Nick said: “It’s been an absolute joy to work on this project and bring it to fruition, from initial concept through to it receiving its safety certification. There’s a real shortage of accessible toys for kids who have a medical condition, despite there being such a demand by families. It’s especially great to see a leading paediatric centre like Birmingham Children’s Hospital introduce them, all thanks to the passion of Aisha and Jo who are the driving force behind Raki.” 

Raki The Raccoon is completely charitably-funded, with Aisha and Jo drumming up support from patient families, their hospital colleagues and even their own family and friends to help fund the mascot and a new family-friendly information booklet, which will accompany Raki. The booklet, in particular, has been a collaborative process, involving the input of many patient families. The duo’s hard work at fundraising got them over the line to create the first batch of soft toys and booklets and they now intend to carry on raising money, to ensure every current and future tracheostomy patient will receive their very own Raki.

One of the first patients to receive Raki is 16-month-old Cooper Dean, who needed a tracheostomy fitted for a condition called Pierre Robin Sequence, a rare congenital birth defect characterised by an undeveloped jaw and difficult airwaves.

Cooper’s mum, Claire Dean, said: “When we were told about what Aisha and Joanne were planning, we were blown away. It’s such a wonderful idea and it will make such a difference to so many families, who are navigating this tough journey. The mascot will help us all to better understand his condition, including his siblings.

“Cooper absolutely loves his Raki The Raccoon – his eyes lit up as soon as he saw it. This really is going above and beyond for your patients and we’re so thankful.”

Aisha added: “I’m really proud of what we’ve created. There is no other tracheostomy mascot currently being gifted to families in any hospital in the UK, so it really is a pioneering project. We truly see it as an extension of our care here at the hospital.”

Raki The Raccoon is just the start for the tenacious pair of colleagues. They aspire to create a support network for their families, by organising family fun days in the future, where tracheostomy families can get together with others in the same position, to create a real community.

To support the hospital’s tracheostomy fund and ensure young tracheostomy patients can continue to receive a Raki The Raccoon mascot and information booklet, please donate via Just Giving.