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Starlight Day, Hunter’s sick kids need a million reasons to smile

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They arrive in red rocket ships powered by farts, travelling zillions of miles from a distant galaxy, arriving on time for every shift at John Hunter Children’s Hospital. 

Their silver capes and captain hats give them superpowers that bring light and colour to every room they enter. 

And, despite some of them being more than 7,000 star numbers, their energy and enthusiasm means they can paint, and sing, and tell jokes, and play Nintendo, and play board games, and host bingo, and watch Disney movies, and colour-in, and dress dolls, and pretend to run a cafe, and do arts and craft, all day. 

Nate Cartwright (7) with his mum Lauren and two of the JHCH Starlight captains.

The Hunter has a dozen Captain Starlights, each with a unique name that was given to them by a human child during their stay at the hospital. 

They can visit almost any area at John Hunter Hospital, and they can be contacted anytime a child needs them.

They have their own radio station and streaming channel that is shared just between captains and kids.

Brining a joyful vibe to sick kids, is in fact, their life purpose. 

For seven-year-old Nate Cartwright, the Captain Starlights are what make every hospital visit a bit brighter. 

The Maitland youngster is a regular at Newcastle’s largest hospital, his complex health issues meaning he has been on the wards, in the Emergency Department, and outpatients area numerous times since he was just six months old. 

The hospital is where he has marked many milestones; learning to eat by himself, hold paintbrushes and use scissors. 

Nate has been interacting with the Starlight captains since he was six months old.

It’s not a sad collection of memories either, the Starlight Express Room is one filled with wonder and magic.

The captains, says Nate, are the creators of good times. 

“They’re very creative and they’re fun. They have the best imaginations and they can solve any problem,” he says.

Nate has an extensive healthcare team at JHCH.

Inside the Starlight Express Room, he feels accepted and comfortable.

It is the captains that have been there for Nate over the years, encouraging him to return to school when he is hesitant, and responding to his random requests, like making a giant chicken or a telescope using arts and craft.

“We try really hard as a family to make sure that everything is as normal as possible for Nate,” says Lauren Cartwright.

“That coming to the hospital is no different than going to a park or a shopping centre for him.

Mario Bros champion Nate Cartwright (7) challenges one of the Captains in the Newcastle SER.

“He adores the captains, every one of them, and he will pretty much do anything happily at the hospital with the promise of coming back to the SER before or after.

“I’ve seen him have to have a lumbar puncture under an anaesthetic and he only agreed to the scenario if he could go to see the captains afterwards.”

The difference, says Lauren, is that doctors aren’t usually funny.

“The captains aren’t asking him to do something,” she says.

“They aren’t asking him to complete a medical examination, they’re not asking him how he feels or where his pain is, he gets to just come in here and be a kid and that’s probably the most important thing for us and the reason that we fully support everything the Starlight room does.

“It gives our kid a chance just to be a kid.”

Nate Cartwright (7) with mum Lauren and one of the Captain Starlights at JHCH.

Captains at John Hunter Children’s Hospital will visit 11,500 sick kids on the wards by the end of 2024. 

The hospital’s Starlight Express Room will be visited by 8,000 sick kids by the end of 2024. 

On Tuesday 21 May, Starlight Children’s Foundation will host its annual nationwide Starlight Day fundraiser. 

Money raised on the day will help grow Starlight’s vital hospital programs, and keep Captain Starlights bringing the smiles. 

Every dollar raised on Starlight Day will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the group’s major sponsors. 

This year the children’s charity hopes to raise $1 million by the end of June 2024. 

Where does the money go?

  • $39 brightens the hospital experience for a sick child with access to our Starlight Express Room.
  • $26 brings the fun, joy and laughter of a Captain Starlight to a sick child’s bedside (ward visit).

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