Making sure patients still get to be kids at Brenner Children’s Hospital

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WINSTON-SALEM, NC. -- Since a car accident on July 5 Christina Jerrell and her young son, Alex, have called Brenner Children's Hospital in Winston-Salem “home.”

According to the hospital, Alex is one of 4,500 children admitted each year. “He had a lot of intern injuries and his spinal cord was ripped in half,” Jerrell said.

Getting Alex, 9, better is a daily battle fought by an army of people and even a therapy dog named Sadie.

That’s where Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Child Life department comes in. Its goal is arguably just as important as doctors in the healing process: to make sure young patients, like Alex, still get to be kids.

“Kids need more than medicine to get well and that’s what we provide,” said Manager of Child Life Cindy Mahan.

The department coordinates various activities for young patients, including pet therapy, holiday celebrations, birthday parties and even dances. The department is also in charge of managing the teen game room and playrooms.

“You walk that rope of wanting kids to feel safe of other people seeing them when they are so self-conscious about their look, but also realize that other kids are going through the same thing,” said Mahan.

Child Life specialists also help prepare the children and their families for upcoming medical procedures with dolls.

“They can use medical equipment or smaller versions and see what’ it’s like so they know what they’re going to see, hear, feel, taste,” Mahan said. “That way it’s not as threatening.”

According to Mahan, research shows children who engage in therapeutic play and understand their medical procedures are less anxious and even feel less pain.

For Jerrell, a mom who wasn’t even sure if her son would survive his injuries three months ago, every smile on her son’s face is a reminder she’s closer to getting her boy back.

“It brightens my day,” she said.

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