Mother and Daughter Child Life Specialists Share Their Passion for the Profession

Lori Brinkmeyer, CCLS, and Allie DiBlasi, CCLS

by Bea Wikander | May 10, 2019

Jayne Kamau
Lori and Allie at the 2019 Child Life Annual Conference 

This Mother’s Day, ACLP celebrates a mother and daughter who are both Certified Child Life Specialists: Lori Brinkmeyer, CCLS, and Alexandra DiBlasi, CCLS. Lori graduated from Iowa State University in 1987 and started her child life career at Children’s Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1988. Lori became certified in 2002, and Allie received her CCLS certification fifteen years later, in 2017.

Lori was studying special education and working as a respite care provider when she discovered child life. As a respite worker, she especially enjoyed interacting with the whole family, and her guidance counselor asked if she had considered a career in child life. This suggestion prompted Lori to ask, “What is child life?” That question was not repeated many years later, when her daughter Allie decided to switch from nursing to child life. In fact, when Allie’s advisor cautioned her about pursuing a career in child life without fully understanding the demanding and competitive field, Allie was able to respond with, “I know. My mom is a child life specialist.”

"A career of caring, coping, and connecting with children and families and all we have to do is listen and be present in the moment and our training takes over from there" Lori Brinkmeyer, CCLS (Mother)

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Growth and Development with a Child Life emphasis, Lori began her career at Children’s Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, where she had completed her internship. For the first six years, she worked inpatient on a medical surgical unit, followed by hematology/oncology for the next four years. Lori has many memories from this time in her career—such as perfecting her elevator speech on child life as she explained her job on a daily basis on her ride between the first and sixth floors, and the time the fire department was called because she made monster toast in a patient’s room since the patient wasn’t able to visit the play room.

Lori is currently in her eighteenth year at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa. During her tenure, she’s seen certification elevate the profession and her department grow from six child life employees to now include one manager, twenty-two Certified Child Life Specialists, one art therapist, and one music therapist. Currently, Lori spends most of her time within the General Pediatrics, Infectious Disease, Diagnostic, Pathology Lab, and Surgery Clinics.  A typical day involves many blood draws and periodically meeting with new refugees within the Infectious Disease Clinic to assist with blood work and vaccinations. She also provides education and support for Supprelin implant procedures, as well as surgery preparation and hospital tours for pectus patients.

Jayne Kamau and Bella Jaboma at SIOP
Conference Badges

Lori's Favoriate Distraction Items
Lori's favorite distraction items

Lori has countless memories of the children and families she’s helped over the years. She cared for a chronically ill boy at Children’s Hospital in Omaha and many years later walked into a room in the emergency department at Blank Children’s Hospital to meet him again as an adult. Another memory that stands out is of a boy who went from punching, kicking, and screaming before a blood draw to creating a video for other patients explaining how he learned to cope with the procedure. “Turn on my music,” he would say to his mother. “Prepare the needle. Wait. Go,” were his instructions to the nurse. Success stories like these are one of the reasons Lori is grateful to have found the child life profession. Her favorite moments are “watching a fearful child become a confident, self-advocating patient, sharing their coping plan with a nurse or child life specialist.” Her favorite part of the job is playing because “it builds trusts and creates connections and a calm, caring space when talking does not.” Lori takes her distraction toys seriously, and says, “Please don’t take away my playdoh, keychain, I Spy book, or hippy stick because no matter the age, I can find a way with one of these items in my coping bag.”

One of Lori’s proudest moments was recently attending the 2019 Child Life Annual Conference in Chicago with her daughter Allie. She created a special tag for her name badge that read, “My daughter is also a CCLS!” Lori never doubted that her daughter had “the heart, soul, drive, compassion, listening skills, and love of children” to succeed in child life. Despite the confidence in her daughter, Lori was more familiar than most parents with the challenges Allie would face on her journey toward certification. Allie recalls that when she told her mom she had been accepted to the undergraduate Child Life program at the University of Iowa—an impressive accomplishment considering that at that time they accepted only ten students per year—she and her mom “both started ugly crying, happy tears of course.” She still has the selfie Lori sent of herself crying in the car hours after they’d spoken.

Like her mother, Allie started school studying a subject other than child life. In her case, she realized early on that nursing was not the right fit. After the discussion with her guidance counselor and a week of child life coursework, Allie felt “so excited and driven” and knew she had made the right choice. In hindsight, Lori realized that Allie had always shown an aptitude for the child life profession. Once, when Allie accompanied her dad and brother to the emergency department, a long-time emergency department nurse commented that “At eight years old, Allie was a little Lori, already using child life techniques to calm her little brother.”

Lori's Key Chain
Lori's key chain

"I always attribute the child's success back to the family and that child specifically. At the end of the day, they were the ones who were able to get through it, even though it was a hard thing to do." Allie DiBlasi, CCLS (Daughter)

In 2016, when Allie was accepted as an intern at Advocate Children’s Hospital, Lori excitedly packed her a distraction bag with some of her favorite items. The fact that Allie has “embraced the magic of the key chain” is a source of both maternal and professional pride. Like her mom, Allie found her first child life position at the same hospital where she interned. She’s currently part of a department of sixteen child life specialists, and they also have a volunteer coordinator, two music therapists, an art therapist, a school coordinator, and a Chicago Public School teacher. Allie is the evening child life specialist, and her focus is on the 69-bed inpatient unit, which includes a cardiac specialty floor, a hematology/oncology floor, a PICU, and a PCICU. She also supports the children of adult patients on a referral basis.

Like her mom, Allie regularly assists with blood draws because of her hospital’s policy to have the phlebotomy department page child life before going into any pediatric patient’s room. She also supports patients receiving IVs, echocardiograms, chest tubes, lumbar punctures, nasogastric tubes, and PICC lines. Allie loves that every day is busy and different. Recently, she went from providing support during three back-to-back blood draws to medical play and preparation for a computed tomography scan to a wound dressing change and then a chest tube removal—all in a matter of hours. The profession’s reputation has changed significantly since Lori first started, when she was often dismissed as a ‘play lady.’ Allie relies heavily on the nursing staff since she is one person caring for many patients. She collaborates with other members of the healthcare team, and they communicate where she is most needed so she can use her child life skills to best support children and families.

Allie keeps a journal of the amusing and poignant comments she hears from patients, such as “Get this tornado out my nose!” from a four-year-old boy with high-flow nasal cannula, and “I used to think only cars got hurt in car accidents” from a nine-year-old boy who was involved in a motor vehicle accident. Allie plans to keep this journal throughout her entire career because “…not only does it sometimes provide a laugh, it also gives me insight into children’s minds.” Although just starting out in the profession, Allie is as passionate about her career choice as her mom: “I love the moments where a patient looks at you after being so worried and anxious for their child’s procedure and says, ‘Wow, that went amazing!’”

Conference Name Badge
Lori's name badge with handwritten sticker

Many child life specialists complain that even their own families don’t understand what they do, and Allie is grateful she can share her triumphs and struggles with her mom. Lori agrees and says, “We can talk, and we get it. We can support each other, and I have learned from her, [such as] interventions to add in my day-to-day interactions.” Allie’s family has given her unwavering support from the beginning, and she never had to explain or justify why she wanted to become a child life specialist. She acknowledges her luck, and says, “I know I’m biased, but I think I have the best mom in the world, so being in the same career as her is just a dream come true.” The love and admiration go both ways in this dynamic mother-daughter duo, and Lori’s heartfelt wish for her daughter reflects this: “May you have a journey in this field as deeply personal and life changing as I have been blessed to experience.  It is a career that never becomes old because every day and every interaction has never happened before in the way it will happen today."

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