Kids in hospital connect online

Hospitalized children in Canada who can't go home for the holidays have a new online way of keeping in touch with their friends and family.

Hospitalized children in Canada who can't go home for the holidays have a new online way of keeping in touch with their friends and family.

Upopolis is a closed and secure social networking site designed for children in hospital that offers personal profiles, personal blogs, instant chats and child-friendly games.

The site lets patients talk online to friends and family so they don't have to fear being an outsider with friends back home, beyond the sometimes lonely walls of the hospital.

"It's really important," said Zachary Starkman, a 15-year-old patient at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, who was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder called nephrotic syndrome as a toddler.

"It kind of keeps you … in the loop with the outside world and makes you feel just like a kid," added Zachary, who has come back to the hospital several times each week since his underlying condition returned following a kidney transplant this past summer.

The site also links young patients with those in other hospitals across the country.

In Halifax, the site helps Taylor Bailey, 17, connect with her friends online who also have cystic fibrosis and know what she's going through, such as the effects of the disease and what she can and can't do.

"Other kids already know and they're like, 'Oh, yeah, I've been through that before,'" she said. "It's really awesome." 

Upopulis features

  • Profiles.
  • Blogs.
  • Instant chats.
  • Child-friendly games.
  • Secure environment including a password-protected social network with a content-filtering tool.
  • Homework site to stay up-to-date with schoolwork.
  • Links to child-friendly health and wellness information.
  • Connections to other children with similar health challenges.
  • Therapeutic tool to help patients fight isolation and share their feelings about being in hospital.

The site includes information on hundreds of diseases at a level young people can easily understand, and helps doctors explain what lies ahead.

"We know it takes more than medicine and treatments to help kids to get better," said Toni Crowell of the Hospital for Sick Children. "This gives us a great therapeutic tool to reach a population of our kids."

Upopolis was created by the Kids' Health Links Foundation and powered by Telus, which provided the technology to develop and build the site. The Telus Toronto Community Board also donated $40,000 to help launch Upopolis at SickKids.

The Kids' Health Links Foundation was founded by Basile Papaevangelou and his daughter Christina, who felt disconnected from friends, family and school during her life-threatening illness in 2002.

The site first launched in 2007 at McMaster Children's Hospital in Hamilton, and has since expanded to B.C. Children's Hospital in Vancouver, IWK Health Centre in Halifax, CHEO in Ottawa and Lutherwood in Waterloo.