Upon waking every morning during her five lengthy stays at UW Children's Hospital during 2005, Emily would usually ask one question: "When is Child Life coming to my room?"
For 12-year-old Emily—and for virtually every child that comes through our doors—Child Life staff are dedicated to making happy memories when a child is hospitalized. Be it organizing an art project or craft, helping arrange patient visits by Wisconsin Badger football players, or comforting a crying parent, Child Life provides a soothing presence.
"Having a hospitalized child can be very stressful both for the child and the whole family," says Mary Kaminski, Director of Child and Family Services. "Our job is to help the child still feel like a child, not a patient. Whether it is minimizing the fear a child may have before surgery or setting up a pizza party, we find that children heal better when their ability to have fun is not compromised by being hospitalized."
Emily, of Windsor, Wisconsin, has been a frequent hospital patient since being diagnosed at age one with a chronic disease known as hydrocephalus—a life-threatening condition in which excess cerebral spinal ﬂuid builds up in the brain. Accordingly, Emily requires a surgically implanted shunt in her head that helps drain the ﬂuid from her head to her abdomen, where it is reabsorbed in the body.
Emily's first shunt was implanted when she was 17 months old. Over the years, she has required several surgeries to replace the shunt, including three instances in 2005.
"On New Year's Day, 2005," recalls Emily's mom, Debi, "Emily was having terrible headaches. We brought Emily into the Emergency Room at UW Children's Hospital." There, Dr. Bermans Iskandar, a pediatric neurosurgeon, did emergency surgery to replace Emily's shunt, which had been malfunctioning.
"We were there for nine hours that day," Debi remembers. "From the minute we arrived in the ER, I can't tell you how many times Julie Auenson (a Child Life Specialist) was there to help calm the situation. She stayed with us in the holding area just before Emily's operation. She repeatedly offered to get me something—a drink, a tissue, anything. She also offered several times to sit with Emily after surgery to give us a break. Because of the way Child Life took care of me, I could be a better parent and more comforting to Emily."