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Recently at Lurie Children’s we asked Child Life Specialist Heidi Bohner and a Child Life Volunteer Elayne Storc what kind of impact our big green boxes make. Watch her energy. Hear the compassion in her voice. This is who she is to the children she serves day in and day out.

“Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, formerly Children’s Memorial Hospital, provides superior pediatric care in a setting that offers the latest benefits and innovations in medical technology, research and family-friendly design.”

That’s how Lurie Children’s describes themselves. It’s an accurate description but “superior pediatric care” means more than most think. Here’s what I mean.

We visit children in hospitals all over the country. It’s one thing to drive by your local children’s hospital a few times a month and be reminded that there are very sick children in your community. Maybe you glance at the billboard promoting childhood cancer research and, for a moment, face that reality too. Coming face-to-face every other week with a new group of hospitalized children across the country is something different. It’s what we do. It’s sobering. It makes us thankful for our good health and the good health of our own children. Likewise, it breaks our hearts.

Our focus is spreading cheer. It’s being a little bit of light in dark situations. We deliver a surprise “big green box” with some pretty great gifts – what we call “distractions and reminders”. Distractions from the tests, the poking and prodding, the being cooped up in a strange room, and of course the illness itself. Reminders that there are still some fun things do be experienced and that, as sick as they may be, they’re still kids and can play in the hospital too. Our contribution is small. Though it often makes a lasting impact, there are a group of professionals at Lurie Children’s who make a much larger contribution to having fun in the hospital and quite a bit more.

“Does anyone know what Child Life does?” We ask this question of all the corporate teams with whom we work. Very rarely does someone say “yes”. Child Life Specialists are professionals who are experts in child development and have a vast understanding of pediatric medicine but they’re not doctors or nurses.

Imagine a child, a 7-yr old girl, with her family, facing a surgery the next day. Doctors and nurses explain the procedure and provide some understanding of the technicalities and they do it with a smile and the best bedside manner. After all, the medical staff at Lurie Children’s are among the best. It’s just that in a cold dark unfamiliar room, a child’s imagination creates a level of anxiety no explanation can quiet. Child Life Specialists are there for those moments.

Many of the anxiety-provoking experiences of a hospitalized child are softened using developmentally appropriate teaching methods (including play) to help reduce stress. That 7-yr old girl, parents by her side or not, calms when a Child Life Specialist sits on her bed with a doll and some pretend medical equipment. She has the opportunity to prep the doll for surgery before she gets prepped! She can give the shots, take the blood pressure, and speak some comforting words to this miniature version of herself. When the real thing comes, that Child Life specialist is there, comforting, relaxing, helping everyone to breath – not just the patient but the parents too.

A Child Life Specialist’s day may involve bubbles and books or tests and tragedies. They’re with children and families regardless. These amazing people are often unnoticed by outsiders but families who experience their care remember them for a lifetime. Part of our mission at Cheeriodicals is to support them and the Child Life Volunteers who tirelessly serve the hospital.

Heidi and Elayne have thanked us and BMO Financial for the Cheeriodical gift boxes, but we want to thank them and all the Child Life Team at Lurie children’s for the work they do. They are the true deliverers of cheer, the truer and more lasting gift to the hospital and it’s our honor to support their work.

To learn more about Child Life at Lurie Children’s visit their site www.luriechildrens.org