Special to The Dallas Examiner
“Thank you for your service,” reads a note on a bulletin board above the desk of Jennifer Porter, BS, CCLS, Certified Child Life Specialist at Parkland Health & Hospital System. This note along with others reminds Porter of the impact she and her colleague Hannah Dean, M.Ed., CCLS make every day working in Parkland’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
“Our goal is to reduce the stress and anxiety that young patients and their families experience during hospitalization. We want to help parents make their child’s stay less traumatic,” said Porter. “It’s difficult to have a baby in the NICU and these past two years with the pandemic has only made it harder.”
Certified Child Life Specialists primarily work with children and families in healthcare settings. Their role is to help improve patient and family care, satisfaction, and the overall experience. This is accomplished through various evidence-based therapeutic interventions including psychological preparation, education, play, self-expression, and bereavement support.
The American Academy of Pediatrics affirms that Child Life Specialists are “an essential component of quality pediatric healthcare,” and as such, Child Life services have become a standard in most hospital settings providing pediatric care.
“The CLSs show love and treat children and their parents as real people instead of patients. And when medicine proves ineffective, they help the parts of our soul that need the most attention,” said Krista Peters, 34, mother of Remy Peters, 9 months, of Garland. “And they celebrate with us when our loved ones get better.”
Remy was in Parkland’s NICU for 96 days. She was born prematurely at 31 weeks with a genetic syndrome called Cornelia de Lange. Her twin sister Nora didn’t survive, and Porter and Dean knew this mother was going to need all the support she could get.
“I was grieving for the twin sister we lost, and they were there to listen to me,” said Peters. “They both helped me through one of the darkest times of my life. I’m not sure how I could have survived without them. They were one of the few bright lights and they helped me see that Remy was a bright light, too.”
Parkland has a full-time team of Certified Child Life Specialists who provide services in the following areas:
- 96-bed, Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
- Women and Infant’s Specialty Health areas, including antepartum, labor & delivery, postpartum, and adolescent prenatal clinic.
- Pediatric & Adult Burn Center.
- Rees-Jones Level I Trauma Center.
- Palliative Care and children of adult patients.
“Our Child Life Specialists are crucial members of the care team and work closely with doctors, nurses and social workers to ensure the needs of each child and family are met,” said Regina Reynolds, MSN, RNC-NIC, NEA-BC, Director of Nursing-Nursery Services at Parkland. “They help prepare a child for medical procedures and offer opportunities for play to serve as a distraction and create a normal and fun environment. They also help parents and siblings deal with the challenges that affect the entire family when a child is hospitalized, especially at this time of year. That’s why holiday celebrations are so important to us.”
The CLS team works throughout the year with critically ill and challenging cases but they also take time around holidays to make these special occasions feel more normal for families with hospitalized children. With the help of his CLS elves, Santa made a virtual stop at Parkland’s NICU on Dec. 15 for its annual Christmas festivities. A stocking crafting party was held Dec. 13 for parents to decorate a Christmas stocking for their baby.
Lizeth Arcos Tinajero, 22, of Mesquite has spent hours in Parkland’s NICU visiting her daughter Giulietta who was born prematurely at 25 weeks on Oct. 5 weighing just 1 lb. 4.5 oz. She spent her baby’s first Halloween in the hospital creating a butterfly costume for her daughter. For the past 3 years, Parkland’s CLS team has hosted a costume crafting party for parents in the NICU in hopes of easing their hospital stay during the holidays.
“It gave me the opportunity to feel my baby is normal. She got to experience Halloween just like other children,” said Arcos. “Thanks to this celebration I was able to create memories with my daughter and she will be able to look back at the photos when she gets older.”
Every day looks different for Parkland’s CLS team. One day they’re helping a young first-time mom bathe her baby and the next day they’re in the hallway with staff playing the “graduation” song for a patient being discharged from the NICU after an extended stay.
What keeps them going “is making a difference,” said Porter.