Five Questions with Kelly Foy, MS, CCLS Posted on March 3, 2016 In honor of Child Life Month, Connecticut Children’s Child Life Specialist, Kelly Foy answers a few questions about the importance of Child Life and why she loves her job! What is a Child Life Specialist? A child life specialist helps patients and families understand the experience of being in the hospital. A four year old’s comprehension is going to be vastly different than a fourteen year old’s, and the family needs support and understanding too. I help clarify misconceptions and provide education about unfamiliar concepts, like surgery or a new diagnosis. Child life specialists help prepare patients prior to medical procedures using specially designed materials and age appropriate language. When children know what to expect and are given roles in their care, they are less scared and tend to cooperate more, helping everything go better. We use play in our practice every day. Play helps children cope. Whether they are here for a quick outpatient visit or for weeks at a time, play helps normalize the hospital environment. During a play session children can safely express their feelings, even if they cannot verbalize them. Some of my most meaningful interactions with patients have come during play sessions. Why did you choose this as a career? As a child, I had health issues of my own and spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals. I was scared not knowing what was happening and had lots of questions that no one answered. Then I met someone from the child life department. They helped me understand what was going on inside my body and even made the hospital FUN. During one of my stays at Boston Children’s, my child life specialist built a cardboard brick wall in my room’s doorway. Everyone cheered as I broke through, celebrating the first moment I could leave my room in weeks. It was at that moment, at eleven years old, that I knew I wanted to be a child life specialist and help patients and families. I feel that my experience gives me a greater depth of understanding for my patients and what they are going through. Like our physicians, nurses and staff you see the whole range of human emotions on any given day – how do you manage that? I work in hematology/oncology, so I never know what to expect when I come to work each day. It’s funny – even though it’s my job to help patients prepare for the unknown, I deal with the unknown myself on a daily basis. Child life specialists work closely with each other and with social workers to make sure that we are providing the best possible care for our patients, and support for each other. I go to yoga for stress relief, and am very lucky to have strong support systems both at Connecticut Children’s and at home. After a hard day, I try to think about at least one positive impact I made that day, whether it was helping a patient cope with a difficult procedure or having a tea party with a scared toddler. It helps me remember why I do what I do. What is one story that stands out during your time here at Connecticut Children’s? When I was fairly new at my job, there was a patient that came once a year for an infusion. As I met with the family to explain my role, it became clear that the patient had many unexpressed feelings about receiving the infusion and about his disease. I came up with the idea to create big bulls-eye targets in his room. We labeled them with all the things that frustrated him about living with his disease. Things such as “being different,” “not being able to play sports,” and “missing school.” Then we used Nerf guns to shoot the targets. Afterwards, we listed all the things that made him special and unique. This was challenging for the patient, but once we started, the positives outnumbered the negatives. This intervention helped the patient identify and share what he was feeling, in a safe and productive way. And the best part? He handled his IV placement like a champ! It was one of my proudest moments as a child life specialist. Do you have any personal connections to Connecticut Children’s? If so, what is it? I was actually a patient at Connecticut Children’s when I was younger. I was treated in outpatient clinics and as an inpatient. Some of my best memories occurred while I was admitted. I remember decorating my IV pole with streamers, pictures and dangly decorations; having dance parties with the nurses; and watching fireworks on the 4th of July from a corner window. We made our own celebrations, even if we couldn’t be with our friends, or at home. It’s just incredible to be working alongside some of the nurses that took care of me when I was younger. Collaborating with them to create the same sense of fun and healing that I experienced here is a pretty amazing full circle experience.