The Best Gift You Can Give This Holiday Season


November 9, 2016
Topics: Donors, Riley Staff Profiles, About Us, Child Life



sara blog image
Sara Barnett, Manager of Child Life and Volunteer Resources at Riley Hospital for Children

The holiday season is right around the corner and many Hoosiers are already thinking about what they can buy for loved ones as the “perfect” gift.

For families who receive care at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, the most precious gifts are the ones that cannot be wrapped:  hope and healing. Patients and families experience hope and healing not only through their medical care, but also through Riley Hospital’s family support programs like Social Work and Child Life.

In my 7 years at Riley Hospital, I have seen firsthand how the Child Life program, one of Riley’s family support programs, has positively impacted patients and their families. Riley Hospital has 24 Certified Child Life Specialists who impact every inpatient, along with about 21,000 outpatients each year.

Patients at Riley often face adult-sized situations—and that’s where Child Life Specialists, trained “comfort specialists,” can step in to help children and families cope with their emotional needs. Child Life Specials provide many services to patients and families including education about diagnosis, distraction during medical procedures, sibling support, therapeutic play, special visitors and celebrations.

Children who receive Child Life services experience far less fear, anxiety, pain and emotional distress. Take 2017 Riley Champion Bella Simons’ story. Bella had been experiencing severe migraines for a month before making her way to a neurologist, where she had an MRI.

The MRI revealed that the real cause of Bella’s symptoms was a benign brain tumor called craniopharyngioma on her pituitary gland, along with severe hydrocephalus (excessive brain fluid). She was immediately referred to Riley Hospital for Children, where she was scheduled for emergency brain surgery the very next day.

“When you’re told you’re going to go into brain surgery tomorrow, you freak out a little bit,” says Bella. That’s why she was so grateful for Riley’s Child Life Specialists, who explained the steps involved in her surgery and brought in pet therapy dogs and coloring supplies. “It’s just so important,” says Bella. “They care about you not just physically, but also mentally.”

Bella’s story is just one example of the vital role that Child Life Specialists play in the care for our patients and we need your help to ensure that care is provided to each patient. More than 75 percent of the funding for the Child Life program comes from donor support.

This gift of staff—not stuff—makes the biggest difference in the lives of patients. We are able to ensure kids and their families are cared for emotionally and physically, which helps kids and families get better faster.

At this most merry, most giving, most busy time of year, it’s easy to forget that hospitals—Riley kids included—need our help. #GiveHope to Riley kids this season by making at gift at RileyKids.org.


Sara Barnett

Sara Barnett is the manager of Child Life and Volunteer Resources at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.


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