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Child Life Specialists Go Above and Beyond

Child Life Specialist
Child Life Specialists are comfort experts

“They did what I couldn’t do at the moment. They went out of their way,” says Landdy Antoine about the Child Life team at Riley Children’s Health. Between visiting her newborn daughter at Riley Children’s and juggling the schedules of her two school-age sons, Landdy felt like she was split in two. She struggled to explain to her boys why their sister wasn’t able to come home yet.

Her daughter, Kaira, was born last September at 25 weeks and 2 days. Landdy had been diagnosed with a prenatal complication called placenta previa, and once Kaira was born, both mom and baby needed immediate medical care to save their lives.

An echocardiogram revealed a hole in Kaira’s heart. The hospital close to home in Monrovia was not equipped to manage her complex needs, so Kaira was transferred to Riley. Landdy remembers the early days at Riley being a “rollercoaster.” Heart surgery was followed by feeding and digestive issues, then concerns about Kaira’s liver. Riley Neonatologist JoAnn Matory, MD, gathered a team of specialists to stabilize Kaira and help her grow.

Landdy is from Haiti and has no extended family in Indiana. While caring for her sons at home, she only had one hour a day, four days a week, to visit Kaira at Riley. Kaira’s care team helped her make the most of that time to bond with her daughter. One nurse called it “the girlfriends hour.”

“We talked about anything and everything,” Landdy shares. “They became my family.”

Riley’s donor-funded Child Life is dedicated to supporting the entire family during a child’s hospitalization. Child Life Specialists stepped in with a plan to help form a bond between Kaira and her brothers at a time when in-person visits weren’t possible. The plan included:

  • Sending presents from Kaira to her brothers, and asking them to create artwork as a gift to her
  • Making recordings of the boys praying and singing for Kaira to listen to (“When she came home, their voices were familiar to her,” says Landdy.)
  • Doing a video call with the boys to show them Kaira’s hospital room and answer questions about her care
  • Fitting a doll with a feeding tube so the boys could practice interacting safely with their sister

Landdy’s family speaks Creole at home, and the Child Life Specialists also found books in Creole and English for Landdy to read to Kaira during her visits.

Though Kaira still relies on oxygen and a feeding tube, she was able to go home in February. She has follow up appointments at Riley several times a week. And Landdy has a newfound appreciation for donors who support programs like Child Life. “I understand what that donation means,” she says. “I know what that money did for me and my family.”