Meet the Child Life Specialists of Kentucky Children's Hospital
March is Child Life Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of our Child Life Specialists and the care, instruction and fun that they bring to our patients and their families. Meet seven members of our Kentucky Children's Hospital Child Life team.
Kelly Thompson is a Child Life Specialist with our pediatric sedation and procedure unit, where she uses her expertise to help children be less anxious in the hospital environment.
“I try to make the hospital seem less intimidating by providing play opportunities while patients are here. I’ve seen young children cope wonderfully with procedures while we blow and pop bubbles together. I’ve built Lego houses and played Minecraft with preschoolers and school-aged children to help them be calmer while they are being sedated. I’ve celebrated oncology patients’ last sedated procedure in their treatment plan with balloons, banners, and lots of hugs from staff. I’ve helped teenagers cope well with IV starts and port accesses while we watch dance videos on YouTube or play Mad Libs together.
These interactions are memorable for me but also bring some normalcy into a child’s hospital experience. Play is how children learn, cope with stress, process feelings and information, and play is vital in their overall development.”
Emily Bollinger has over ten years of experience as a Certified Child Life Specialist, and in addition to helping children and families cope with challenging and stressful situations, she was instrumental in introducing Child Life Services to our Pediatric Emergency Department.
“The Pediatric ED staff’s dedication to meeting the needs of so many patients and families who enter the hospital at a very vulnerable point – and their willingness to utilize Child Life Services – continues to inspire me. I am highly involved in caring for patients who have just experienced trauma, are being evaluated for abuse or have specific developmental needs that make healthcare particularly stressful, and in each situation, our numerous disciplines work together and provide individualized, compassionate and comprehensive care.
I remember spending a great deal of time with a 5-year-old with autism. A few hours into care, the patient’s mother told me how grateful she was that the ED staff and I had worked to understand the child’s unique needs – and modified the care plan to provide effective, supportive care, which allowed the child to cope more effectively than she ever had in a healthcare setting.”
Certified Child Life Specialist Caleigh Lowing is passionate about helping others – and in addition to the fun aspects of Child Life Services, she loves teaching patients and families how to reduce anxiety and stress that may accompany a procedure or hospital stay:
“One of the greatest feelings is preparing a child who is anxious for a procedure and seeing them cope well after using preparation, creating a coping plan for the procedure, and distraction.
We often do medical play which helps the patient to become familiar with medical supplies and become more comfortable with medical supplies. Often times people do not realize Child Life specialists are using play as a way to teach about procedures, and not just to build rapport with patients and normalize the hospital environment.”
Even though Sydney Houzenga has only been with Child Life since January, she brings a lot of passion and joy to the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Unit:
“When a kid is laughing and playing there is a sense of relief in the room and the weight of worry, stress and chaos is lifted off the family’s shoulders, even just for a moment. And I give myself bonus points if I can get the parents to laugh, too!
I’m inspired daily by the resilience of our kids and having the opportunity to bring joy and a sense of calm into the lives of patients and their families is absolutely incredible. It’s what I look forward to every day.”
Originally from Minnesota, Certified Child Life Specialist Ashlee Olson joined UK over a year ago to start a child life program in our NICU:
“The NICU, in particular, is a pretty incredible place. It is a unit with the world’s tiniest and most vulnerable patients, and I have the opportunity to walk with them and their families as they prove their strength throughout their stay. It is never an easy journey and there are many bumps in the road, but on their discharge – or NICU graduation day – it is incredible to watch them leave as happy and healthy babies.
What inspires me most about my job is the resilience that I see in the children and families that I work with. Some of these kids that we see every day have gone through more pain than I could ever imagine for myself.”
Sarah McAlister works on 4West in the PICU and relishes the successes – and challenges – of being a Child Life Specialist:
“Helping a patient understand and come to terms with a new diagnosis or cope with difficult medical treatment can be tough, but that’s why I do what I do. To be able to come alongside a patient and family in a time of vulnerability and offer a helping hand is an amazing honor – and not one I take for granted.
There’s an L.R. Nost quote that really exemplifies who I strive to be as a child life specialist: ‘When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.’ That, for me, applies to everyone I encounter at the hospital, whether they are in for something big or something small.”
Kristina Richetts has been Certified Child Life Specialist at UK HealthCare for five years, working in acute care for two years before transferring to our hematology/oncology clinic. Among her other responsibilities, Richetts works with our friends at DanceBlue to host events, manage student volunteers and help prepare for the dance marathon every year:
“At the marathon, our clinic families are surrounded by so much love and compassion. The marathon is where our clinic families and our clinic staff are embraced by thousands of students who work tirelessly to make sure that every patient receiving treatment at our clinic has the absolute best care possible and has access to resources that ease some of the burdens of treatment.
Many people hear that I work with the hematology/oncology population, and they assume that working in the clinic must be so sad. While there are definitely some sad and hard days, the truth is that most of my days are full of laughing and smiling patients.”