Healthy Kids Summer 2022


Special Support at the Bedside Child life specialists are a critical part of the care team at Rady Children’s

A HOSPITAL STAY OR AN OPERATION can be scary, especially for a kid. But having a compassionate, caring and knowledgeable ally by their side can go a long way toward easing little minds. Rady Children’s has a special kind of employee, called a “child life specialist,” who helps patients and their families understand exactly how a procedure will go, provides emotional support and helps bolster coping skills. Child life specialists work throughout the Hospital, including in the intensive care units, Emergency Department, surgical units, and the Peckham Center for Cancer & Blood Disorders. Lead Child Life Specialist Taylor Keightley has spent much of her seven years at Rady Children’s helping young patients prepare for surgical procedures—ranging from the simple, such as inserting ear tubes, to the most complex cardiac cases, craniotomies or spinal surgeries. She explains the surgery beforehand in a developmentally appropriate way, using a tablet to show and explain the sequence of events and sensory information of the surgery process. This promotes familiarization, mastery, control and understanding. Keightley also helps lessen kids’ anxiety about anesthesia masks by making them fun—with stickers, other decorations or even bubbles. “One thing I like to do with the mask is dip it in bubble solution on the outside; that way, when they breathe

through the mask, they blow bubbles,” she says. “That really would help them do those big, deep breaths. It was just a fun little way for them to feel like they have more power and control over the situation.” Sometimes when a child is especially anxious, Keightley accompanies them back to the operating room and plays games or watches cartoons with them until the anesthesia kicks in. “I love doing what I do because I get to see kids overcome their biggest fears and their stressors,” she says. “Giving them the tools to do it and then see them overcome it is the most rewarding thing to me.” Child life specialists also plan special events to put a smile on patients’ faces. Though the pandemic has affected the programming, they still plan discharge parades for kids who’ve been in the Hospital long-term, visits from special guests, bonding activities, holiday giveaways, and more. And like everything the child life specialists do, it’s funded by philanthropy. “We wear many hats—a lot of different professions do, but our job is very encompassing,” says Keightley. “Every situation, every day is different, and that is something I’ve always loved about the job. You never know what you’re about to walk into. We want to take any stress that we can off that child and also their families, because it’s really stressful as a parent to have a sick child.”


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