Helping Kids Heal

A remarkable team of specialists helps kids being treated at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital feel more at home — and more like themselves.

Author | Lauren Crawford

Photos by Eric Bronson

Kelsie McStockard's office is a bit unique. Instead of filing cabinets and office supplies, she has a PlayStation 3, a Wii and a model MRI machine — complete with four stuffed animal "patients." Rocket ships and stars dapple the walls; there are cut-outs of Disney princesses, SpongeBob and Spiderman everywhere. A craft cart houses numerous toys and coloring supplies.

McStockard is a certified child life specialist in the Department of Radiology at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. She is a member of a team whose sole purpose is to help children and their families feel more like themselves within hospital walls — the Child and Family Life services department, or CFL.

Founded in 1922, CFL is the oldest service of its kind in the country. Over the past century, it has grown and evolved, addressing the full scope of young patients' needs. Today, there are more than 40 specialists throughout every inpatient area at Mott and multiple outpatient areas. CFL has a giving library, a sibling support program that has quarterly pizza parties, and regular art and music therapy sessions. The patients and families never have to pay for any of the services, as more than half of CFL's funding comes from donations. The remainder is subsidized by the University of Michigan Health System.

Although CFL looks a bit different on every floor, each unit employs the same philosophy: reduce the difficulties of hospitalization, and promote positive growth and encouragement.

McStockard has been a part of the radiology department's CFL team for almost all of its three-year history. "I have the best job ever," she says. "I get to play with kids and make sure they understand what's happening — and that they have fun."

McStockard prepares for her day in the Child and Family Life office on the third floor of Mott. She reviews which patients she'll be seeing — two in the morning and one in the afternoon.
McStockard and 5-year-old Sophia talk about the procedure Sophia is there to have. "We're going to tell you all the steps so there are no surprises," McStockard says.
A large part of McStockard's job is helping kids prepare for their procedures. Here, she hands Sophia a hospital gown. "This is a special pink gown," she explains. "I'm going to put on my gown, and you put on yours."
"Which one of these gowns should Dad wear?" Helping the kids be part of the process helps normalize the situation, McStockard says. "They don't have a choice to be here, but they can choose some things."
"[The radiology techs] are getting all of the stuff ready and Daddy is right here holding your hand."
Every patient gets to keep the pillowcase used during their procedure. It's a way to remember something positive about their time at Mott. McStockard folds Sophia's pillowcase up before handing it to her. It's Sophia's favorite color — pink.
"I am so, so proud of you!"
Immediately after lunch, the CFL team has a 15-minute "huddle," in which they compare notes and thank helpful team members. "Is there anyone you would like to recognize?" asks Brenda Henne, an educational specialist who leads the day's meeting.
Five-year-old Abby is the next patient McStockard sees. McStockard walks with Abby and her mom to the testing room, talking about Abby's favorite cartoon characters. McStockard likes to establish a bond with the child as soon as possible — it makes the large hospital seem cozy and welcoming.
The procedure is over and Abby is all smiles. "Do you have any questions about what happened today?" McStockard asks before handing Abby's pillowcase to her. Abby, still smiling, shakes her head "no."
McStockard's approach is different depending on the patient's age. Hannah, 15, is used to certain procedures, so McStockard asks about music and sports. They watch Beyoncé videos on YouTube while Hannah holds "stress stars" in her hands.




View more photos from our flickr gallery.

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