Child Life

At CHEO, child life specialists help children and their families work through difficult situations emotionally and psychologically. In all areas of the hospital they support families navigating a vast array of circumstances, from a terrified toddler about to experience his first needle, to an inconsolable mom whose child is in surgery.

CHEO has one of the busiest Emergency Departments in the country, and it is where Child Life Specialist Lisa O’Kane has worked for 13 years. After a brief conversation with Lisa, it becomes obvious that her passion for helping children and families runs deep, a trait instilled by her parents. That passion, combined with her ability to read people and assess situations makes her a perfect fit in CHEO’s Emergency Department. “The Emergency Department is unlike other hospital units,” says Lisa. “I love the unpredictability. My heart races when I start my shift because you never know what kind of a day it’s going to be. It could be a day filled with trauma cases or a day of broken bones and lacerations.”

The fact that there is no such thing as a “slow day” in the Emergency Department is part of what motivates Lisa. A constantly busy waiting room means she is always scanning for the child or family that needs some help. “The reality of the Emergency Department is that nobody wants to be here,” Lisa explains. “They are here because they are worried about their child and it is usually their worst day. Sometimes the smallest things I do can go a long way. For example, if a mom is in the waiting room with a crying child and they have been there for an hour, have seen other patients going ahead of them and are thinking they have been forgotten, you can feel their anxiety. I will sit beside them and say things like: this must be hard for you, what can I do to help you? Have you eaten? Do you need a blanket for your child? Suddenly after some simple conversation mom is breathing a little easier, and feels better about the situation.”

It is often the child that needs the most attention and Lisa has learned plenty of tricks over the years to help calm a frightened little one. “Let’s say I have a four year old boy who needs an IV for pain medication. I will use the doll in my teaching kit and show him what is going to happen,” explains Lisa. “Then when the nurse comes in with the IV cart, the child will recognise everything and there will be no surprises. They will say things like, ‘there’s the blue band they’re going to use,’ and ‘I’m going to get a squeeze on my arm.’ By having the child take part and making them feel empowered you can take them from being scared to doing high fives after the IV is in.”

Child life specialists help patients cope with fear, anxiety, separation and adjustment to the hospital experience. In the Emergency Department that means reduced pain, less sedation, shorter procedures and kids and families going home sooner. Lisa does everything she can to make those things happen and is thankful for donor support. “I think we are very privileged to have a hospital like this,” says Lisa. “As a mom, all three of my children have needed CHEO and I feel we are so lucky to have this incredible hospital. Thank you. With your continued support child life specialists will always be here to support CHEO patients and the doctors and nurses who care for them.”