CEO blog: Behind the nose with therapeutic clown Helen Donnelly (AKA Dr. Flap’s “supervisor”)

Dr flap and nurse flutter_2016   Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital’s therapeutic clown duo Dr. Flap and Nurse Flutter.

We take therapeutic clowning pretty seriously at Holland Bloorview (I couldn’t resist!). There’s science behind it and we’ve done research about its impact. When therapeutic clown duo Dr. Flap and Nurse Flutter are around, you can hear the laughter – from kids and employees – down the halls. Dr. Flap’s ukulele has provided the unofficial soundtrack for many of our events and Dr. Flap even recently held a 24-hour uke-a-thon in support of the therapeutic clown program.

In this blog as part of my Q&A series, I go behind the nose with Helen Donnelly, AKA Dr. Flap’s “supervisor” or our Senior Therapeutic Clown Practitioner, and she talks influences, heroes and the meaning of happiness.

1.  What are you reading lately? What’s on your nightstand (or kindle!)?

James Herriot, It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet. He’s a great humourous writer and it’s fun night-time reading!

2.  Do you use any social media? Why or why not?

I’m addicted to social media; Facebook in particular. Being mostly self-employed over half of my business (teaching clown, performing in theatre and circus) results in people connecting with me in this way.

3.  Who have been your biggest influences?

This is too huge a question! In terms of artistic, I’d have to say my master clown teachers, of ‘Mump and Smoot’ fame as well as a host of others (David Shiner, Bill Irwen, Lucille Ball, Laurel and Hardy, I could go on). In terms of the art of Therapeutic Clowning, aside from my partners in nose here, currently it’s a tie between our colleagues/past mentors in Quebec (JOVIA), Caroline Simonds of France (Le Rire Medecin) and many practitioners within Scotland (Hearts And Minds). So many awesome mentors out there. But if you were to ask me what drives in terms of Best Practice the big prize has to go to the kids, youth and teens we serve here at the hospital. They are the biggest influences of all, hands down.

4.  What do you think your best quality is?

My sense of silly. Also my enthusiasm and drive.

5.  What’s your main fault?

My enthusiasm and drive (go figure!).

6.  What do you appreciate most in your friends?

Unconditional acceptance of my quirks and a beautiful sense of the silly.

7.  What’s your favourite thing to do?

Toss-up between clowning (in healthcare, circus or theatre) and hiking/bird-watching.

8.  If you hadn’t ended up doing what you do what would you be?

Oh, I come from a long line of teachers; I’m sure I would have wound up in the school system. As it is, I do teach theatrical clown outside here and therapeutic clowning techniques here, so teaching followed this fool after all!

Helen Donnelly

9.  What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I tend to shy away from this word as I’m not quite clear what it really means…it can be a feeling, that is fleeting in my view. But I think it would have to be that there would be no longer any need for Therapeutic Clowns in healthcare. So I guess I’m hoping one day to be out of a job? Wait….hang on Julia!!

10.  What is your greatest fear?

To be out of a job (see above!) or to lose my funny perspective of the world (kind of the same thing!).

11.  Which living person do you most admire?

My partner, who is both my director and the love of my life. He has healthcare struggles of his own and endures them with such dignity and humour.

12.  What is your most treasured possession?

The first clown nose I was ever given, upon ‘graduating’ from my first clown workshop. It hangs in my office and stares at me…it’s a bit creepy…(no, it’s not!)

13.  What do you consider your greatest achievement?

The path I’m currently on in healthcare.

14.  What do you like the most about working at Holland Bloorview?

Being inspired to put my best effort forward and challenge myself and my colleagues to meet and exceed global standards. Sounds so geeky but it’s really true; it’s also true that countless colleagues continue to support my vision and help me find ways to get there…so a big shout out to all of you!

15.  How did you end up working at Holland Bloorview?

My former colleague Jamie Burnett, who succumbed to a brain tumour in 2011, scouted me out. He and I knew of each other’s practice when I was working at SickKids back in 2004, so in 2007 when he heard I was looking for a change he snatched me up! It was a historical and beautiful union. We were a great contrast to each other (hence, a fine duo). I miss him every day.

16.  What would surprise people most about your job?

How much ‘office’ work comes with the territory. I think most (outside this hospital) assume we just kind of sludge in, get dressed up, wander around, finish and leave. They would likely be surprised to learn only half of our time is spent ‘in nose.’ I think there is an opportunity for further education about this (nudge nudge say no more!)

17.  Your greatest hero?

There are countless examples of true heroism here at the hospital, beyond the kids. I can cite hundreds of parents and clinicians who would easily fit this bill! I often say there are hundreds of documentary films just waiting to be made to tell their story…(idea?)



2 thoughts on “CEO blog: Behind the nose with therapeutic clown Helen Donnelly (AKA Dr. Flap’s “supervisor”)

  1. I loved learning more about one of my favourite people! Thank you for sharing about the magical and healing work you do for our children, families and staff. And I can’t look at your picture and not think of Jamie. He would be so proud to see you carrying on the work!


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