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Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA: Where Sick Kids Can Be Kids

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By David Geffner

Published Jul 12, 2010 12:00 AM


Two things parents need to know about the Child Life program at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA: The same specialist who meets your kid when he or she first arrives remains throughout, creating a continuity of care and support that can last a lifetime. And the half-dozen battery-powered ATVs on the outdoor cork patio top out at 10 mph, which is as smoking-fast to a kid with cancer as any NASCAR racecar.

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That second factoid was actually put to the test not long after the Child Life staff moved into their spacious new digs (age-specific play areas with wrap-around floor-to-ceiling windows and same-floor proximity to patient rooms) last year at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

"One little guy headed straight for the ATVs, the day we opened," recalls Amy Bullock, director of Child Life/Child Development Services. "He jumped on and floored it, with the IV pole still attached!"

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Such tales of sheer joy and resiliency (in the face of stressful medical encounters) are at the heart of Child Life's "let kids be kids" ethos, even if they do sometimes result in new play policies (like banning IV poles from the ATV track for safety reasons).

Other Child Life rules are strictly benevolent: The "No White-Coat Zone!" signs in the planetary rotunda, for example, forbid physicians from conducting medical discussions or making assessments in the kid-safe area.

And it's not just in the gleaming new playrooms or teen lounge where these protective bubbles exist. Child Life is one of the few programs that provide care across the entire range of hospital services.

"In-patient and out-patient, the ER, radiology, the operating room," Bullock notes. "We use therapeutic play, interactive gaming, creative arts, basketball hoops — all kinds of different resources that allow kids to focus on their strengths and develop coping strategies for themselves and their families."

On any given day half of the hospital's 68 beds may be vacated for an r&r schedule that includes recording a CD with a music therapist, watching the latest Hollywood movie on a screen donated by local non-profit Lollipop Theater, or a paint-splattering arts & crafts session.

Even the sickest kids get to party down, as battery-powered, ventricular-assisted devices bring in artificial heart patients, and wireless telemetry monitoring sever bedside chains. The Child Life teen lounge is pretty much like any other teenager's room (minus the scary mess!) where Internet access, HD flat-screens, and X-Box 360 offer patients (and their siblings) a conduit to their everyday worlds.

"All the other services rotate, but my patients see me every time they come in," says Hilary Gan, a 14-year Child Life veteran who works with cancer/blood disorders patients.

"I met one patient when she was four years old, and now she's 21. The first thing she asked her social worker when she came into the hospital a few months back was: 'Can you find Hilary?' She called the other day just to tell me she had passed her math test."

 

To learn more about the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, check out UCLA Magazine's July 2010 feature, How Healthy Is Your Hospital?

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