Saltwire: Teddy bear donation brings comfort to patient families in memory of Dale Little

Dr. Sarah McMullin holds a donor-funded teddy bear provided through Teddy Bears with Heart

Originally published in the Chronicle Herald. Pictured: Dr. Sarah McMullin from the QEII’s Department of Critical Care holds a donor-funded teddy bear provided through Teddy Bears with Heart.

After a diagnosis with a severe form of cancer, Lunenburg native and beloved husband, Dale Little, passed away in February 2022 at age 76.

Dale is described by his loved ones as a beacon of positivity, warmth, and generosity in his community. He is survived by his husband and devoted partner of 43 years, Blake Starratt, and is deeply missed by all.

Dale loved people, music, boating on the lake, and sleeping under the stars. With his unique sense of humour, Dale often spoke about his ‘small appetite’ while tucking into second helpings of a gourmet meal - prepared by Blake - always eaten by candlelight. Most of all Dale loved Blake and his furry feline, Miss Maudie Mae.

Before Dale’s passing, a long-time friend wanted to find a way to comfort him in his final days, resolving to give back and provide comfort to others in turn, as Dale would want.

The idea was to create a fund or QEII program in Dale’s name to benefit patients who were in the hospital for extended periods of time. She brought the idea to Dale, and they brainstormed names for the initiative, landing on ‘Smile a While with Dale’.

However, it was only after Dale’s passing that the opportunity of donating to Teddy Bears with Heart was presented. Teddy Bears with Heart provides teddy bears with a recording of an end-of-life ICU patient’s heartbeat, as a keepsake for family members left behind.

After careful consideration, it was decided that donating to the program would be fitting to honour Dale’s memory and legacy, by offering comfort to grieving families.

Along with honouring Dale, his friend also saw the donation as a chance to fulfill a long-standing desire to express her gratitude to the QEII, for the care she received as a heart transplant recipient in 2011. The idea of having a loved one’s heartbeat preserved forever had special resonance.

“I could make this nice contribution to honour Dale and make sure he wasn’t forgotten,” she said.

His friend’s heartfelt donation to the QEII Foundation will provide a total of $20,000 for Teddy Bears with Heart, offering comfort to so many QEII patients and their families in Dale’s memory.

Portrait of Dale Little
Dale Little is remembered for his generosity, compassion for others, and warm smile. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed/Blake Starratt

Teddy Bears with Heart started in 2019 as part of the QEII’s Three Wishes Project, which itself was established to fund simple but special items or experiences for end-of-life ICU patients.

“[It’s designed to] de-medicalize and personalize the death and dying ICU experience,” says Dr. Sarah McMullen, a physician in the QEII’s Department of Critical Care, assistant professor at Dalhousie University, and co-lead of the Three Wishes Project.

ICU workers have also benefitted from the Three Wishes Project, she adds.

“Frontline practitioners find it very rewarding and empowering,” says Dr. McMullen. “For junior nurses new to the ICU, it provides them with a level of comfort, and an avenue to approach patients and their families to initiate the death and dying discussion.”

During his career as a flight attendant, Dale became an avid collector, gathering an impressive assortment of eclectic keepsakes from his travels. Incidentally, one of his most prized collections was his teddy bears, making this donation much more poetic to those who knew him best.

“There are teddy bears all over this house! One for every occasion,” says Blake, adding with a smile, “Soft, cuddly, and comforting, just like him. He was known for his ability to give great hugs.”

Blake remembers Dale for his infectious smile, joy for life, commitment to family and faith, and an unwavering desire to help others. Blake believes Dale’s desire to help will be paid forward through this donation.

“He was a humble man, but I know that he would be very proud of the fact that he is going to have some sort of memory [continued],” says Blake, reflecting on Dale’s generous legacy. “That is an extension of his life.”

Current QEII Foundation fundraising efforts aim to provide sustainable funding for these special bears, which cost $40 a piece. With sustained funding, care teams could purchase the bears in advance and have them on hand when needed.

Any donation to Teddy Bears with Heart will help provide a special teddy bear to grieving families, offering comfort to loved ones for years to come. Support the project today by calling (902) 334-1546, or by donating online at