Happy Child Life Month
March marks the beginning of Child Life Month, a time for us to celebrate the work of the remarkable “comfort experts” who help kids feel like kids while dealing with medical challenges. Child Life Specialists are not doctors or nurses, but their work makes a world of difference for patients and families. Their work wouldn’t be possible without your help. Donors who give through Riley Children’s Foundation provide critical funding to sustain the Child Life program at Riley Hospital.
Today we are happy to introduce you to one of Riley’s caring Child Life Specialists, Heather Troyer.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background and what drew you to work as a Child Life Specialist at Riley Hospital?
A: I have been with Riley for four years but have been a Child Life Specialist for 15 years. Prior to coming to Riley I worked in Methodist pediatrics (before they moved to Riley). I currently work in the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) on 7E and 3EB. I knew early on I wanted to work with kids and loved the medical setting. Then I learned about Child Life, and knew that was a perfect fit for me.
Q: What are some of the kinds of things you do in your daily work?
A: As a Child Life Specialist in the PICU I wear many different hats. I work closely with the team to provide extra support to families as they deal with their child being in an ICU setting. I work to prepare patients for any surgery or any other procedure and also to provide support and distraction during those procedures. I help the patients understand why they are in the hospital and try to normalize the setting as best I can. I provide sibling support to help kids understand why their brother or sister is hurt or sick, and what all the equipment and tubes are for. I also help support families at end of life situations, and help in making memories they can take home and keep forever.
Q: What are the greatest joys and the biggest challenges of your job?
A: The biggest joys are seeing patients smile and make the best out of being in the hospital. I love when they know me by name and understand my role. The biggest challenge is when I see a child who is not coping or feeling well and no matter what I do, it doesn’t seem to help. There are times when I really wish I had a magic wand to wave.
Q: Can you share an experience where you could tell your work made a big difference for a patient?
A: There was a young girl who came in for a tumor resection on a weekend, when there weren’t Child Life Specialists available. Her mom said the experience was so scary for her because everything moved so quickly (MRI, CT scan, blood draw etc.) and she was not coping well at all.
I was able to meet her the day before her surgery to gain rapport and trust. We were able to do medical play, which gave me a good idea of what she was scared of and what misconceptions she had about her surgery. I had the opportunity to help her with her breathing when she was in pain.
The surgery went well but she was afraid to get out of bed post-op because of the pain. The day after surgery just happened to be her mom’s birthday. I was able to get her mom a balloon for her birthday, but wanted to wait until the patient felt well enough before giving it to her. The physical therapist was having difficulty getting the patient to participate so I sat across the room and told the patient I had a secret to tell her but I needed her to walk to me so her mom would not overhear. Just like that, the patient was out of bed walking towards me. After I told her about the balloon, she wanted to walk to find her nurse to let her know as well. The patient ended up walking way more than expected, and realized the pain was not that bad. When the pain did get bad, she would breathe the way we worked on and that seemed to “blow her pain away.” This is a coping strategy that she can use in the present and the future.
Q: Can you share a few fun facts about yourself?
A: I grew up in a very small farm town known as Amboy, Ind. I love the Lord and my wonderful husband of 13 years and have 8-year-old twins (a boy and girl). In my free time I love spending time with my family and reading. I enjoy organizing and doing house projects. I love being at the lake in the summer and spending time with my nieces and nephews. I’m pretty easy going and love helping others in any way I can. I do not enjoy cold weather and snow.
Q: What would you like the public to know about Child Life?
A: Child Life can reduce anxiety which can then speed up the healing process, which then means a shorter hospital stay. Insurance does not pay for Child Life services so we need help from the wonderful donors in our community.
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