Hanna began working as a full-time Certified Child Life Specialist at John H. Stroger Hospital of Cook County in October of 2022 and is currently developing a program for the hospital from the ground up, with a focus on the general pediatric unit and the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). Stroger Hospital’s patient population encounters a high number of burns, motor vehicle accidents, gunshot wounds, abuse and neglect cases, respiratory illnesses and other serious medical issues.
Since entering the role of Child Life Specialist, Hanna has cultivated significant relationships with interdisciplinary teams on multiple units, as well as donors and outside organizations, in order to aid and support her patients and their families. With their well-being in mind, she is currently working on building the hospital’s toy and game supply, as well as the number of comfort items and prep books on hand. Additionally, Hanna is working diligently on expanding memory making, distraction tools and non-pharmaceutical pain management options.
“As a one-person department, I try my best to prioritize patient care. Even the smallest interactions with a patient or family member can have such an impactful impression. I am extremely passionate about working with pediatric burn patients and focusing on their psychosocial needs. It is also incredibly important to me that burn patients have a designated treatment room for dressing changes. I am so proud of the progress our program has made and I am confident that in attending this conference I can provide an even bigger boost.”
I first learned about the one-person program scholarship to the ACLP Conference through a previous recipient. This person was my former practicum supervisor and a mentor throughout my child life journey. As I was writing my answers to the questions, I thought to myself “what were the actual chances of me being chosen?” I was only in my position for about five months and building a program from the ground up. I was ecstatic when I received the email that I was chosen as one of the recipients! Being that this is my first professional child life specialist job, a one-person program at the time, I needed all the resources and connections I could gather. The week before I left for the ACLP Conference, I went through the schedule of each day. I starred the topics I believed were more relevant to my hospital and what would benefit my hospital population. In addition, what I needed to learn more about such as non-pharmaceutical pain management, reducing traumatic stress in pediatric procedures, and supporting children with traumatic amputations.
The first week, I met a teenage patient who ended up getting a below the knee amputation after a motor vehicle collision. She was my first patient who I was helping to support a traumatic amputation. Her experience was very complex where she had multiple surgeries and skin grafting done to try to save her leg. There were many care team meetings with different departments and, co-treating with PT, OT. Towards the end, I have used every child life trick I had and then some. She is a patient that I will never forget, and her experience made me seek out additional resources to help her. During the presentation on this topic at the conference, I have learned about different coping styles, tools to help express emotions such as angry and sadness by using syringe painting targets, memory box and writing a letter to the loss limb. I learned ways to help teenage patients with their identity and body image when it came to limb amputations. Once I returned to the hospital, I reached out to the teams who helped coordinate this patient’s care and shared the new information I have learned. This led to a discussion on what could have been done differently whether it was managing her pain or looking at her hospitalization with a new perspective.
Another session that stood out to me was, “Understanding the Needs of Hospitalized Children in State Custody”. I have worked with patient’s who are wards of the state, DCFS (Department of Children Family Services) is involved, and the hospital may serve as their saftest place to be. I worked with a 10-year-old patient who was at the hospital for over 100 days due to finding her placement. The staff became her family and we learned more about her each day. The first few days she was admitted in PICU, staff believed she was non-verbal and only understood Spanish. However, slowly we learned more of her non-verbal cues of communication, and her understanding of simple words in English. I formed a therapeutic relationship with her where she would verbalize simple words of her needs and wants. In this session, I learned more about “the invisible suitcase” which explains how a child’s past experience informs their current behavior. Lastly, I learned unique activities to help children in state custody such as a life book, all about me, and facilitating goodbyes.
By having the opportunity to attend the ACLP Conference, I have created new connections with CCLS’s all over the country and met outside organizations in person such as Project Sunshine! Last week, I developed a new partnership with Sawyer’s Wish who I have met at the exhibit hall. During the awards ceremony, I met a CCLS who I reached out to recently looking for advice on how to navigate a conversation at my hospital. I am extremely grateful for being able to have this experience and I cannot wait to see what topics are going to be discussed at next year’s conference.