Ask Siri Bream what she does for a living and she would probably say, “I play with kids.” But, as a child life specialist at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, her specialty entails much more than that.Among the many medical specialties, research capabilities and pediatric experts at CHoR, stands a group dedicated to helping kids be kids, even while in the hospital. Enter Child Life, a group that supports the developmental, emotional and therapeutic needs of children undergoing medical treatment, while also providing the comfort and support families need. For those of us who no longer take time out of our day to color and play Candy Land, the important benefits play provides children undergoing chemotherapy treatments or a long hospital stay post-surgery, may have never dawned on us. But the truth is, in order to cope with illness and maintain childhood normalcy during a stressful and chaotic time, a child’s outlet is play.“We give patients the chance to have fun and learn their illness or injury doesn’t define who they are,” said Siri Beam, certified child life specialist at CHoR. “They sing songs together, play games, watch movies, do crafts; most of the time the children are so busy enjoying themselves they forget they are even in the hospital.”Child life specialists work with children and their families to minimize concerns and fears associated with the hospital and they strive to make a child’s stay as comfortable as possible. Many parents refer to child life as one of the best services offered at CHoR. Using techniques such as medical play therapy and procedure education, child life specialists help children understand and cope with their hospitalization. The specialists also help prepare patients and families for future visits by allowing them to meet doctors, tour the hospital and ask questions ahead of time.“I’m honored by the opportunity to support patients and their families during a difficult and emotional life situation,” said Beam. “It is a privilege to guide them throughout their journey and become an integral part of their care team.”Child life hopes to make a child’s stay a comforting home away from home. One way they do this is by greeting children with scheduled hospital visits to a room decorated especially for them. Patients can look forward to special visits from therapy dogs or Sweet Frog characters toting smiles and treats. Sometimes, even visitors from the VCU basketball team, the Science Museum and the Children’s Museum of Richmond stop by to add some joy to the halls. For those who spend holidays or birthdays in the hospital, child life arranges celebrations and parties to maintain the normalcy of childhood traditions and make patients feel special.
“I love watching the kids interact,” said Beam. “One time, I was working with a pre-surgery patient on medical play and education when he met another boy who had already gone through the same operation. The boy was able to calm the new patient’s fears by explaining the procedure process and even showing him his scar. I do everything I can, but when it comes down to it, it’s all about the patients. When you see one child help another like that, you know you’ve done something right.”
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