Meet Child Life Specialist Kayla Sadowski

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Kayla Sadowski with Evelyn Ginley, Middletown, Ind.

March is Child Life month, and a chance for us to celebrate this important family support program that donors enable Riley Hospital for Children to provide to all hospitalized children. Child Life Specialists are the “comfort experts” who specialize in helping children and families cope with the challenges of hospital life and medical procedures.

Today, it’s a pleasure to introduce Riley Child Life Specialist Kayla Sadowski, who works on the 7 West unit at Riley, where children primarily receive treatment through hospitalist, gastroenterology, and infectious disease specialists.

Q: Tell us a bit about your background, your education, and how you were drawn to the Child Life field.

A: I have my bachelor’s degree in chemistry from St. Norbert College and my Master’s in child life from the University of Akron. I first heard about child life through my previous volunteer experience in a pediatric hospital. I was instantly drawn to this field because I was able to see the relationships the child life specialists were able to make with their patients and families and observe the impact the work they do has on the patient’s overall hospital experience. Working in the field of child life combines my passions of working with children and working in the medical field and I am able to do something I love each and every day. Since graduating I have worked at Riley Hospital for Children for two-and-a-half years on an inpatient unit.  

Q: What are some things you do with patients in a “typical” day?

A: As a Child Life Specialist on an inpatient unit, each day is different which is the beauty of the work we do. I get the opportunity to work closely with our multidisciplinary team to determine the needs of our patients and families. Once identifying the needs I am able to create individual interventions to meet those needs. I work to prepare patients for tests, procedures and surgeries and provide distraction and support during those tests and procedures. Since the hospital is an unfamiliar environment to a lot of our patients, I work to normalize the hospital by providing developmentally appropriate play opportunities. I provide education to both patients and families about new diagnoses and work closely with the medical team to help patient’s achieve the medical goals required for discharge.     

Q: What do you love most about being a Child Life Specialist?

A: My favorite part about being a Child Life Specialist is that I get the opportunity to see a once-anxious and fearful child get through a difficult experience with newfound coping skills. It’s so rewarding to see all of the work we do as Child Life Specialists help a patient and family have a more positive hospital experience.    

Q: Can you share an example of a patient for whom your work made a dramatic impact?

A: One patient experience that stands out to me was with a young school-aged child who was extremely anxious for an upcoming blood draw and IV placement.  She was tearful and upset just talking about the procedure.  

After introducing myself and child life services, I asked if she wanted to play doctor with me and give a stuffed animal an IV just like she was going to get. For Child Life Specialists this is considered medical play, which provides patients the opportunity to explore and familiarize themselves to actual medical equipment and provides them with a sense of control. This also helps us provide education about the procedure, discuss various coping skills and clarify any misconceptions the patient may have. Through this medical play experience we had established a plan about exactly what she was going to do: take deep breaths, squeeze my hand, engage in an alternative focus and try to remain still.   

Through this experience, this once extremely anxious and scared patient knew exactly what to expect for her procedure and was able to utilize the coping skills discussed in our medical play session. Both the patient and family were so grateful that I was able to take the time to ensure this patient was well prepared and supported for this procedure. From that moment forward, this patient was able to adapt these new found coping skills to be utilized throughout her entire hospitalization.  

Q: What is your message to donors who support Child Life?

A: There are no words to sufficiently express how truly thankful we are for the amazing support we receive through donors. Because of donor support I am able to do the work that I love to do each and every day to help a child through a difficult procedure, prepare a patient and family for an upcoming surgery or even just bring a little bit of joy and play into their day. Donors who support child life are able to directly touch so many patients and families throughout their hospital experiences. For that I say, THANK YOU!!!

Q: Any fun facts about you that you’d like to share?  

A: I was raised in a small town in the upper peninsula of Michigan. I love all things outdoors: boating, 4-wheeling, waterskiing, downhill skiing, cross country skiing, camping, swimming and canoeing. I am the fur mother of an adorable dog named Karma and a precious cat named Kitty Kitty. At the age of 28 I have lived in five different states. 

Riley Blogger

The Riley Blog is written and/or edited by members of the Riley Children's Foundation Communications Staff.

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