Young Patients Get New Therapy--Laughter

When Yogi Bear and Fred Flintstone walked into the Laugh Room at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, a handful of children squealed and pointed. Only a 14-year-old, in pain from a gunshot wound in his knee, could not manage a laugh at the walking, talking cartoon characters. "Maybe later," his father said.

"It's all to make these little fellas smile," said veteran cartoon creator Joseph Barbera of the hospital entertainment, which included cartoons on a closed-circuit television set. He and others from Hanna-Barbera Productions Inc. created the distractions for Harbor's pediatrics ward as a pilot project aimed at helping sick kids feel better and recover faster through comedy and laughter.

It is a spinoff of the laughter therapy concept advanced by veteran author and UCLA medical professor Norman Cousins in his 1980 book "Anatomy of an Illness," in which he told how hours of comedy films helped him beat a life-threatening illness. Cousins was at the medical center Thursday to help open the Laugh Room.

The cheerful room in a corner of the hospital's sixth floor is decorated with pictures of cartoon characters, along with balloons and stuffed animals. For an hour every afternoon, children not confined to bed can come there to watch cartoons. Others can watch in their rooms.

Harbor, whose 40 pediatrics beds are always full, developed the Laugh Room after a hospital accountant heard Barbera talking about the idea on the radio. If it works in Torrance, Barbera said, he wants to put it in other hospitals.

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