Holidays in the Hospital 5

Meet the Child Life Elves of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

There’s no good time for a child to be sick, but during the holidays is an especially bad time. It’s a good thing that nearly every day can feel like a holiday when surrounded by the cheerful elves of the Division of Child Life at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC).

There is nothing like the glee in a child’s eyes as they open presents. The Child Life team unwraps gifts of love for child patients of all ages during the holidays and year-round. Child Life is composed of certified specialists and assistants who offer social and emotional support for children and their families during a hospital stay. The goal of the program is to help families understand and cope with their children’s reactions to the uncertainties of health care. Their programs are enhanced by gifts and donations from the community.

Kelly Range, a Certified Child Life Specialist, stresses that most of the children and families are scared about their stay in the hospital. The Child Life team partners with families to provide services that respond to their individual needs. They listen to concerns, gently and honestly explain the procedures and diagnoses and encourage families with support. They make play opportunities available to help provide relief and a diversion from the stresses of the hospital stay.

Patients’ families are looking for answers and the Child Life staff helps by providing something they need the most–gifts of love. What kind of gifts will be unwrapped at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital this holiday season?

The Gift of Familiarity

“It isn’t ever normal to be in the hospital—and it can be devastating at the holidays,” says Range. “We try to work together to help things become more normal for the child and their family.” The Child Life team coordinates with parents to mimic as many of the family’s holiday traditions as possible. They decorate the hospital rooms with colorful streamers and cutouts, play favorite videos and music and transform hospital rooms into a comfortable setting of cheerfulness.

Thoughtful Gifts

Jane Livingston, Coordinator for Donor Relations and Stewardship, helps make sure there are plenty of appropriate holiday gifts for every hospitalized child. The hospital has needs for gifts for patients of all ages, but especially teenaged boys.

“We can always use advanced craft kits–like model cars and planes–along with sports memorabilia from local college and professional sports teams,” says Livingston. Gift cards from local restaurants and stores or the hospital gift shop are especially helpful because they are useful for all ages. The simple gifts are those that often mean the most; baby rattles, teething toys, clothing, batteries and wrapping paper are always in demand at CCHMC.

Hopeful Gifts

The gifts and services provided by CCHMC and its supporters bring hope to the children and their families. Lisa Hall, Operations Coordinator for Child Life, gets to see many of the gifts that make the patients smile with hope.

“We try to make the children feel connected with their families even when they are away from home,” says Hall. “We help them put together sibling books to share their experiences with their brothers and sisters. We try to plan events in which the entire family can participate.”

The hospital has facilities to bring immediate families together. Ryan Seacrest, a celebrity from American Idol, donated money for an on-site studio where local or touring entertainers can offer special performances for children. Other events include parties and activities featuring athletes from local colleges and even from the Reds and Bengals teams.

Gifts of hope are not just for the patients. Taking part in such an important, giving profession touches the lives of the staff as well. Range says working with hospitalized children has made her always grateful for the opportunity to celebrate the holidays with her own family.

“The children make me appreciative of the magic and wonder that is the season,” she says.

Hall beams as she reflects on the diverse population that the hospital touches.

“We have children here literally from all over the world. It makes me aware of how similar we are and how we all share the same kind of struggles.”

“I realize almost daily how lucky we are to live in the Cincinnati area.” says Livingston. “People are willing to give so generously to touch the lives of these children. Working here has made me a more thankful person.”

Want to give a thoughtful gift to allow a child and his or her family the chance to have a joyful holiday this year? For more information about how you can help, contact Child Life of CCHMC at 513.636.8855 or visit the website at CincinnatiChildrens.org/ChildLife.