Leslie’s first meeting with a family is often as part of a Fetal Concerns Program consultation, which is a meeting between interdisciplinary hospital staff and the parents of a child diagnosed prenatally with a congenital abnormality. This initial meeting allows Leslie and other child life specialists to assess how much support the family will need, provide advocacy training, and prepare siblings for the arrival of their new brother or sister. Using customized books, Leslie includes older siblings in the process of welcoming a new family member and teaches them about the tubes and lines they may see attached to their new sister or brother.
When Leslie cares for infants after surgery, she works with the healthcare team to make sure the baby’s developmental needs are met. Infants in the hospital are at risk for not meeting developmental milestones, and Leslie helps whenever safe and possible to ensure they have time for play, tummy time, reaching, and rolling. Babies in the hospital are exposed to negative touch and overstimulation; Leslie encourages parents to promote bonding and a healing environment by speaking softly, singing, reading a book, and incorporating positive touch and infant massage.
When Leslie works with older children, she incorporates the tools of the child life trade to increase communication and understanding and reduce uncertainty and confusion. She uses a customized cardiac teaching doll with a NIRs monitor patch, sternal incision, pacing wires, chest tube, central line, IV, blood pressure cuff, and leads and her handmade surgical prep books to help children understand what they may look and feel like after surgery. One of Leslie’s many skills is the ability to explain medical conditions and procedures in an age-appropriate manner and in a way that promotes clarity and confidence rather than fear and anxiety.
After surgery, Leslie’s work continues as she motivates patients to do their best with physical, occupational, and/or speech therapy goals. She uses sticker charts and behavioral plans to help children understand goals and to reward them for determination, effort, and progress. Getting a breathing tube out, sitting in a chair for 30 minutes, and taking a walk are just a few examples. During the recovery process, it’s hard to overstate the importance of celebrating these small but significant accomplishments.
One of Leslie’s former patients is a vibrant girl named Lily, who was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy as a first-grader and received a heart transplant at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Lily was inspired by the care she received from the entire healthcare team, especially Leslie. In this video, Lily says “When I grow up, I want to be just like my child life [specialist], Leslie. I want to help others.”
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