Hospital program helps kids cope

July 29, 2008 9:05:24 PM PDT
The program involves more play time for children, with the focus on play acting with dolls. It's making a big difference for young patients and their families at both Children's Hospital and St. Christopher's Hospital.

Ten-year-old Rachel Hohl is play-acting with her doll, "Grace", to be reminded how a port catheter will help her with her own formidable illness, cystic fybrosis.

"She was diagnosed at 5 months of age," says Rachel's mom, Teresa Hohl. "We just transferred here from Children's two years ago."

Rachel has had surgery to place a "port" in her chest, so she can receive fluids and antibiotics to relieve her pulmonary and digestive problems.

"We come here every once in a while for a tune up," Hohl says.

Rachel has endured many hospital visits because of her disease, and has just been re-admitted for another stay:

"It doesn't hurt when you get the needle," she says, "because they put different creams so you don't feel it."

Rachel is cautious when inserting the needle into Grace, and it's comforting to her to know she's performed the procedure correctly, even though, "I know it's just a doll, and dolls can't feel pain."

The idea behind this type of "medical play" in the Department Of Child Life here at St. Christopher's Hospital For Children, is to lessen the apprehension and fear children may feel before their procedures.

Missey Lusk, a child life specialist at St. chris, says "The kids get to learn a sense of mastery over their illness and over what's happening in the hospital."

"A lot of times," Lusk adds, "they have no control, and they get to be the doctor or nurse."

Of course it's a big help to the hospital staff when they're able to put their young patients at ease.

"We are able to understand what they know about their illness," says Lusk, "and what misconceptions they may have."

On her way to the playroom is Dept. Of Child Life volunteer, Stella Dhody, who is looking forward to story time with Rachel.

"On the way she met a pig, a silly pig, they danced a jig."

The Child Life programs at Saint Christopher's and Children's Hospitals are among more than 400 like them at hospitals in the U.S. and Canada.

They depend mostly on donations for funding.

They're making it much easier for young patients to understand and accept some of the most difficult experiences in the world of medicine.

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