Reporting Dr. Maria Simbra
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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Dalton Robinson has been in the hospital for a year. His surroundings are an everyday reminder that he’s sick. He also gets an every day reminder he’s a kid.
“They just make him feel good and have a little bit of normalcy. For him, you know, he’s only 10-years-old,” says his grandmother, Zandra Williford.
Not only do the Child Life Specialists give him beads for the various tests and operations he has to have, they teach him about what to expect, and they accompany him on procedures when it’s off-limits for the family.
“If he has to have surgery, he doesn’t have to go back there by himself. If he has to have a procedure where I can’t go, that’s where Lindsay comes in, and she’s taking granny’s place. And she can go back there and he can hold her hand, and she’s with him the whole procedure, and he’s not scared,” Williford continues.
“We can show them pictures of the operating room; we can show them pictures of other areas of the hospital they might have to go for tests and procedures. Because I think if you know where it is you’re going to go, that fear of the unknown fades away,” says Children’s Hospital Child Life Specialist Lindsay Bromberg. “Maybe a medical play session will help them understand what it is they might go through.”
The doctors love it.
“When we get our children recovering after transplant, they’re going through a complex process of recovery and surgery, etc.,” says CHP transplant surgeon Dr. George Mazariegos, “But really what we want them to get back to is to normal childhood activity, normal goals and dreams that all kids have, and that’s what they really focus on.”
Most of the kids love it, too.
“My hospital in Roanoke doesn’t have child life people, and it’s very different there,” describes patient Lindsey Nanz. “You just sit in the room all day with nothing to do. and here it’s like a whole new element.”
“If you are a children’s hospital, I believe a child life department is part of the team,” says Bromberg.
It’s not always an easy job, and burn out is a risk.
“As a Child Life Specialist, sometimes we’re involved in telling patients bad news because sometimes we can do it on a developmentally appropriate level, more so than the doctors can,” says Bromberg. “And so, that can be very difficult, at times, because nobody wants to deliver bad news.”
But it’s a rewarding job.
“Being a child and having to be in the hospital isn’t natural and it’s not something you expect, and if we can be helping to make that experience, you know, more positive, then I’ve done my job,” she says.
Because Child Life Specialists do not generate revenue for the hospital, they rely on donations from the community for the supplies, toys, games and equipment.