Medical student David Elkin stood beside the hospital bed of 3-year-old patient Christian Feliciano, clutching three red sponge balls.
Christian watched as Elkin slipped two of the balls into his pocket. After closing his hand on the remaining ball and saying the magic word, “chocolate,” Elkin opened his hand. Magically, without ever reaching into his pocket, all three balls reappeared.
“I want another one,” said Christian, who was recovering from surgery on a brain tumor at Stony Brook University Hospital.
Performing magic in the hospital is routine for Elkin. A third-year medical student at Stony Brook University, Elkin, 27, is known as “Dr. Magic” around the pediatric wings. He performs as many as three times per week for young patients, going from room to room to perform his tricks. That’s in addition to his hospital rotations, which are typically 10 hours a day.
“I get requests from different people in the hospital if they need help feeling at ease,” Elkin said.
But Elkin isn’t a typical magician. In 2007, he founded MagicAid, an organization dedicated to improving life at the hospital for children through performing and teaching magic. For both patients and colleagues, Dr. Magic reveals his secrets.
Elkin, a Los Angeles native, has taught about 50 Stony Brook medical students, doctors and nurses how to perform magic tricks. He holds training sessions as needed on card tricks, the sponge ball trick, and on how to pretend to pull a coin out of a child’s ear.
“Hospitalization is scary for any child,” said Joan Alpers, the hospital’s director of child life, a department that helps patients cope with the stress of their illnesses. “We were delighted to add a medical student who is also a magician to our bag of tricks. Pun intended.”
For Elkin, MagicAid combines a passion for helping others and a lifelong hobby. Elkin was first drawn to magic as a toddler. At 15, he successfully auditioned to be a junior member of the Magic Castle nightclub in Hollywood. He was later asked by actor Neil Patrick Harris to join to the Magic Castle’s Innovations Committee, where he helped design tricks, gags and illusions. He began MagicAid when he was volunteering in a Los Angeles hospital.
“Magic provides the kids with a subconscious hope that getting better seems possible no matter how impossible it seemed before,” Elkin said.
With one year of medical school left, Elkin is choosing between becoming an emergency room doctor or a pediatrician. But through MagicAid, he has left a mark at the hospital and on its patients.
“What’s really nice is that he’s provided a legacy by creating a program that trained other doctors to perform magic,” Alpers said.
Elkin and his fellow Stony Brook magicians has been just as important to patients’ families, too.
“It means so much because Christian is going through a difficult time,” said Francisco Feliciano, the boy’s father. “And they entertained us, too, because we are going through it, too.”