Young Pirates Invade St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital

January 29, 2024
St. Joseph's Children's Hospital patients ride pirate-themed floats and toss beads to medical staff during the hospital's Gasparilla celebration on Jan. 26, 2024.


For 120 years, Gasparilla has been a Tampa tradition that reenacts the legendary invasion of the city by José Gaspar, a fictional Spanish pirate. Each year, children and the young at heart look forward to the pirates, beads and festive floats that make up the city’s Children’s Gasparilla Parade.  

St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital (SJCH) participated in the parade again this year, which was held on Saturday, Jan. 20. The parade unit included a float, the SJCH neonatal/pediatric ambulance and a walking krewe comprised of team members and their families who tossed beads to the crowds. 

To ensure children had the opportunity to participate in one of Tampa’s biggest celebrations despite being hospitalized, SJCH hosted its own version of the Gasparilla parade on Jan. 26. 

It was all hands on deck as SJCH patients became pirates for a day and invaded the hospital hallways. Dressed in their finest swashbuckling gear and riding on decorated stretchers and wheelchairs, the young pirates threw out beads and other trinkets to hospital staff along a special parade route.

“Since some of our pediatric patients aren’t able to go out into the community because of their illness or injury, we brought a little piece of Gasparilla to them in the hospital,” SJCH Child Life Specialist Sarah Heath said.

The Child Life team at SJCH organizes special events like the Gasparilla parade to provide an opportunity for pediatric patients to have fun while in the hospital. Being able to celebrate community events, holidays and other milestones gives children a sense of normalcy, which is an important part of their care.  

A young boy rides on a float and hands out beads to nurses in a hospital hallway.
St. Joseph's Children's Hospital patient Madeline Barron, 10, passes out pirate treasure to medical staff lining the hospital corridors.
“It’s important for me to be in this parade because I get to see the nurses and they’re cheering for me,” said 10-year-old Madeline Barron, a patient at SJCH. “I know I can do anything with them by my side. And St. Joseph’s is always here to help me.”

As part of the Gasparilla festivities last week, SJCH patients also had the opportunity to hunt for pirate-themed treasure on SJCH’s playground during an activity hosted by Dunkin’ on Jan. 23. 

St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital is Tampa Bay’s largest provider of children’s health services and is committed to providing everything needed for the health and well-being of children. Together, BayCare Kids and St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital offer specialized inpatient and outpatient pediatric care to thousands of children and their families each year in multiple locations throughout West Central Florida. From the tiniest baby to the high school quarterback, patients are cared for by doctors who specialize in treating children, in surroundings designed exclusively for kids.