May 6, 2019

On April 26, Texas Children’s Child Life Department hosted its second annual hospital prom. The prom brought together patients, friends and family members to celebrate this important life event. Following such a successful turnout for the inaugural event last year, this year’s event grew thanks to the generous support of donors and volunteers.

Prom is just one of the many milestone events in a teenager’s life that every child longs to experience.

Donned with masks, a little makeup, and music, inpatients and outpatients at Texas Children’s Hospital were able to experience this monumental occasion on-site at the Medical Center campus.

“Creating opportunities for patients and their families to make positive memories that they may not have had otherwise is extremely fulfilling,” Event co-chair Activity Coordinator, Brandi Clark said. “We loved getting to see patients have the experience to feel confident, beautiful, handsome, and special while having the night of their lives. It was all we could ever ask for and is exactly what makes us passionate about our jobs as activity coordinators.”

While patients were getting their fabulous prom makeovers and putting on glamorous gowns and tuxedos, the fourth floor Pavilion for Women conference room was turned into the perfect masquerade-themed setting. Child Life partnered with several donors to provide formal wear for all patients who participated.

As patients began to arrive with their friends and family, members of the local coastguard greeted them at the door to escort patients without dates for a night to remember. Some parents tearfully said their goodbyes as they dropped their teens off, while others stayed and enjoyed themselves in the lobby outside of the room where prom was held. The family section included movies, games, and refreshments to entertain parents and siblings while the prom goers enjoyed much needed time with their friends.

Inside the prom palace along the wall lied delectable pastries and punch for the teens to indulge in along with t-shirts that they could take as memorable gifts. When patients walked into the room they were instantly drawn to the photo booth. For a moment, pictures with friends and entertaining props gained everyone’s attention until the DJ began to play all of the latest hits and dance songs that drew everyone to the dance floor.

“Personally seeing some of my chronic patients and families experience a night of normalcy at prom- dancing, singing, laughing, and dressing up has made prom better than we could have hoped for,” Event co-chair Activity Coordinator Zoie Drake said. “We loved that as Activity Coordinators we were able to create a space where so many of our patients and their friends could connect and feel like regular teenagers.”

For hours into the night the teens danced, sang, ate and laughed. With nearly 80 participants this year, the event turned out to be better than expected and has paved the way for a more extravagant event next year.

“Seeing our patients in a new light dressed up, dancing, making new friends that are also in the hospital was one of the most rewarding parts about planning prom,” Event co-chair Activity Coordinator Megan Ekedahl said. “We look forward to this event growing with the Texas Children’s Hospital patient population and have prom be something patients and families talk about and look forward to year after year.”

April 2, 2019

Teen and pre-teen inpatient children now have a place to get away and partake in age appropriate activities during their stay at Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus. On March 28, the Child Life department invited patients, families and staff to an open house for the Activity Room.

Over the years, the hospital has opened multiple child life activity spaces, typically playrooms, located on various floors of all three hospitals. These spaces provide a fun, safe and procedure-free environment for our inpatient population and their families.

The Child Life Department at Texas Children’s Hospital provides spaces for patients to get away from the medical setting and to enjoy and play as other children would at their age. For our teenage population, it is important to have an environment and activities that speak to their interests. At Medical Center Campus, through the support of Teammates for Kids, we have the Child Life Zone located in the West Tower that supports the activities and needs of our older patients.

As the Texas Children’s system continues to expand our locations and inpatient services, the Child Life departments continue to ensure that the pre-teen/teen population have a space where they can gather with other adolescents and know they have a space of their own.

“When you walk into most child life playrooms, you see toys intended for toddlers and young children,” Child Life Specialist Riley Hammond said. “There are toys and activities still in the Activity Room for kids of all ages, however; this space is geared specifically for children eight years and older.”

Located in the inpatient wing in the right corner on the fifth floor, the space that has been revamped into the new Activity Room. Previously, this space was a playroom and was underutilized due to staffing and volunteer availability, said Hammond.

Inside the new Activity Room, there are many developmentally appropriate devices and activities, some generously donated by our dedicated partners. In the far back, next to a large window that beams natural sunlight into the room is an electronic arcade-style basketball goal, generously donated by Wood, an energy services company, located next to West Campus that is a benevolent donor and supporter of Texas Children’s.

Right next to the basketball goal, is an all-in-one locker, known as “The Dalton Cart” that houses multiple electronic devices and video games. The Dalton Cart was generously donated by the Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation, a foundation started by a professional football player, Andy Dalton, who calls Katy, Texas home. There is also an Xbox for patients to play the very popular, Madden, along with other video games generously donated by Child’s Play, a charity organization that seeks to improve the lives of children in pediatric hospitals through the kindness and generosity of video games.

The teen child life room also provides movies, board games, art materials, science kits and a host of other forms of entertainment. Most importantly, this space allows patients a place to simply get out of their hospital room. In the afternoon, there is a protected activity time for teens over the age of thirteen.

“It really helps kids and teens feel like themselves,” Child Life Activity Coordinator Mary Reddick said. “This is a room where they get to make choices for what they want to do, be in control and socialize. They meet other teens who are here at the hospital in the Activity Room and often realize, ‘hey I am not alone.’”

When Reddick and Hammond originally proposed this new play space, they wanted it to be easily accessible to patients and their families. The room is open Monday through Sunday, eight o’clock in the morning to eight o’clock in the evening, with intermittent child life staff and volunteer supervision.

Each campus now has a space that is dedicated to our teen population, and this is just one of the many ways that Texas Children’s Child Life Department works tirelessly to provide every child with a high-quality experience.

“It has been a huge transformation, not just with the physical things here in the room, but really I would say, the open accessibility has been one of our largest successes with this space,” Hammond said. “I’ve received ample feedback from staff with excitement that the space is open and being used by so many. We have many, many big dreams for what else can be in this space and we continue working closely with development to make this an even greater experience for our teens here at West Campus.”

February 12, 2019

When nothing seems to calm 4-month-old Bella Deborbieris, her family and caretakers in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit know who to call – Texas Children’s Music Therapist Alix Brickley.

Within minutes of Brickley’s arrival to the side of Bella’s crib, a sense of peace and joy washes over the infant, whose big blue eyes stay focused on the music therapist while she strums her half-size guitar and softly sings the theme song to the Disney movie Frozen.

“Alix and her music work every time,” said Bella’s aunt, Kerry Kernwein. “It’s a relief knowing she’s here.”

Brickley is a member of Texas Children’s Child Life Department’s newly formed Creative and Therapeutic Arts Program. The program is comprised of four music therapists, one art therapist and a media producer, all of whom work collaboratively to alleviate stress and anxiety, while promoting positive coping skills, for patients and families during their time at Texas Children’s.

“With more than 50 child life professionals, Texas Children’s has one of the best child life departments in the country,” said Maggie Lampe, assistant director of Clinical Support Services. “This new program will enrich and support the services we already offer to support children and families as they adjust to the hospital experience.”

Each therapist is assigned a caseload throughout our Texas Medical Center Campus, working with many of their patients daily. Art Therapist Ashley Wood spent a lot of time with 12-year-old Tyrese Neal throughout his lengthy stay at Texas Children’s Heart Center. She and the heart transplant patient created masks that represented how he was feeling at the time. They also used colorful thread to make worry dolls.

“The movement used to create the dolls is very therapeutic,” Wood said. “It’s something patients can do to cope with all of the emotions they are dealing with during their stay and after they return home.”

The role of Child Life Media Producer Ashby Gleditsch on the new team is to work with the therapists to produce interactive programming for Texas Children’s Hospital’s closed circuit television station Z-TV, which can be viewed on channel 19 of any cable-connected television in the hospital.

Some of that programming – music concerts – is prerecorded and other shows – Bailey Bingo – are live. Gleditsch also works with the therapists on the team to create videos for specific patients. All of her projects, she said, are aimed at enhancing a patient’s self-concept and leaving them with a good impression of Texas Children’s.

“Giving our patients an outlet to creatively express their emotions is really powerful,” Gleditsch said.

The other members of the Creative and Therapeutic Arts Program are Marial Biard, Abi Carlton and Michael Way, all of whom are music therapists. Day in and day out they garner smiles, giggles and outright laughter from patients and family members with the magic they make via their guitars, drums, voices and other instruments, some of which are half size so they can bring them into tight spaces such as the NICU and so they can play softly as to not disturb patients who might be sleeping.

Carlton said she spends a lot of time with patients who are sedated and often intubated, and that she adjusts the music she makes to match their vital signs, and then slowly changes it to guide her patients to a more comfortable state with decreased agitation and perception of pain.

“Music may be the only positive form of stimulation these patients are able to perceive at times, and it can have powerful outcomes,” Carlton said. “Music therapy can also create positive memories and provide a sense of calm in the room that families and even staff can benefit from. It’s a real privilege to work alongside the care team with these critical care patients and see how music therapy can be such an effective modality.”

Way, a Renal Services music therapist and a member of the new Creative and Therapeutic Arts Program, works with nephrology patients across the hospital. Through music, he’s able to help patients through the many burdens of kidney disease.

“Kidney disease affects many different aspects of a patient’s life,” Way said. The burden can be staggering. I try to help patients express some of their struggles and frustrations through music.”

Biard said she loves being a music therapist at Texas Children’s because she gets to be the highlight of her patients’ and families’ days.

“We are part of their stay and they associate us with happiness,” she said. “We achieve this through music by creating everlasting memories in the recording studio, relieving their pain with song, making their bodies stronger with instrument play, and helping them express emotions in a positive way.”

Learn more about Texas Children’s Child Life Department at https://www.texaschildrens.org/departments/child-life.

December 18, 2018

Music is not only food for the soul, but also medicine for the body when it comes to health institutions like Texas Children’s. George Robinson, the grandson of Lillie and Jim Abercrombie, has partnered with Michael Clay, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Texas Music Project, to donate a $75,000 gift from the George A. Robinson IV Foundation.

It all started when Clay realized his family ties with the Abercrombies. They were Texas Children’s first major benefactors, whose kindness and foresight helped create our nationally recognized hospital. With this in mind, he knew that reaching out to his family, whose history runs deep in the organization, would lead to a great partnership with his company. Texas Music Project is a program for students, schools, and communities, which partners with musicians to help guide students down their own unique musical paths.

“We’re a grassroots resource for the community and kids for music,” Clay said. “I’ve learned that music therapy crosses over from not just schools, but into hospitals as well.”

The money donated goes to the Child Life department’s music therapy program, to upgrade media technology. Music Therapy, Child Life Media Producer, Bio Med, IT and the Facilities Planning teams have all been working with the Texas Music Project for the past year to bring George’s vision to fruition. The upgrade includes new audio systems, lighting systems for the broadcast, and most importantly, portable capabilities.

The idea was to upgrade the audio system in a way that could be taken anywhere in the hospital. Along with the main system located in the Zone, the Child Life entertainment center for patients, there is a mobile studio that allows for an efficient assembly process so that video can be streamed lived from room-to-room, if necessary.

The last portion of this partnership consists of producing a regular concert for patients called Rockin’ Robinson. This will include different musicians performing live for patients, to entertain them and lift their spirits. With the portable technology upgrade, these shows can be produced regularly and live streamed on ZTV, an internal television channel, for patients who are not able to leave their room.

“I am really grateful for the Robinson’s gift towards the technology upgrade,” Child Life Media Producer, Ashby Gleditsch said. “I am excited about what we will be able to accomplish in the future with live programming.”

On December 12, Robinson and his daughter Blair Robinson, along with Clay and the Texas Music Project team came to the hospital to shoot the pilot of Rockin’ Robinson. Dozens of patients, their families, and employees gathered in The Zone, for a concert as Blair sang and played the acoustic guitar with her band.

Music therapy is a very important component when it comes to an individual’s recovery process, especially with children. This gift will not only ingrain a new activity into the Child Life program, but also ensure smiles on patient’s faces and music in their hearts.

“I’m so excited about putting these shows in the rooms for the kids to see,” Robinson said. “My goal is to get this into all of the Texas Children’s campuses so that we can reach as many children as possible with a few songs.”

October 29, 2018

Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus recently received their largest book donation to date. The Cypress area of the Goddard Schools donated 15,000 books to the hospital library.

The Goddard Schools are a well-known early childhood education institutional system that uses the most current, academically endorsed teaching methods to ensure that the students enjoy learning while simultaneously receiving the skills they need for long-term success in school and in life.

“I work in the Child Life Department and we want to be able to use any resources and tools that can bring relaxation, or just a sense of normalcy to patients and families when they are in the hospital,” Library Coordinator, Brian Ballard said. “The Goddard Schools are preparing children all the time with knowledge, so they understand that something as small as donating these books can relieve stress, and be a useful distraction for patients while they are in the hospital or just visiting a doctor’s office.”

Since the donation is such a large amount, the books will be dispersed throughout the organization. The Medical Center Campus, West Campus, and the Woodlands Campus all have libraries that offers books, board games, puzzles and movies for patients and their families to enjoy. The library also houses medical and parenting resources, paperback fiction, magazines, foreign language books, computers and a fax machine.

The hospital libraries are monumental to our Child Life Department. Texas Children’s has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with the Houston Pi Beta Phi alumnae organization and shares a mutual commitment to literacy and education. The first Pi Beta Phi Patient/Family Library opened in 1984 at Texas Children’s Hospital, and in 2011, the Pi Beta Phi Patient/Family Library opened at the West Campus.

The library has also expanded to include Book Nooks, to provide books for patients and families in waiting rooms across the Texas Children’s Hospital system.

The importance of the library, for Ballard, goes back to his childhood as he remembers what it is like to be in and out of a children’s hospital.

“I don’t remember it feeling like I was in the hospital, I remember the activity rooms and the things that were going on in the hospital,” Ballard said. “So hopefully the library or these Book Nooks are going to be instilled in these patients as well, and they remember Texas Children’s Hospital as a positive experience, and the library as a large part of providing that to them and their families.”

Currently, there are more than 150 Pi Beta Phi Book Nooks located at Texas Children’s medical center campus, the West Campus, Texas Children’s Health Centers, Texas Children’s Urgent Care facilities, the Centers for Children and Women and in all the Texas Children’s Pediatrics practices throughout the Houston area.

Click here to learn more about Texas Children’s Hospital’s library. To donate, contact Brian Ballard at bsballar@texaschildrens.org.

August 7, 2018

It is that time of the year again; the end of summer means the beginning of a new school year. Texas Children’s Hospital’s Social Work Department organized a back-to-school fair to provide information to patients and their families to help them prepare for the new school year.

“Events like this provides community organization opportunities,” Social Work Manager Jackson Huynh said. “It allows them to reach and serve Texas Children’s patients and families affected by childhood illness that other community organizations will not be able to reach and serve due to a child’s hospitalization and/or rigorous outpatient treatment plan.”

On July 31, the Texas Children’s Hospital Medical Center Auxiliary Bridge quickly filled with tons of patients and their families waiting to take advantage of the opportunity to receive free school items.

Texas Children’s relationships and partnerships with many groups and agencies made way for a great response when it came to soliciting organizations to participate.

Below are the groups that occupied tables with information along with a few goodies for children and their parents to take with them.

  • One Step Closer Foundation – a non-profit, charitable organization whose main goal is to ease, as much as possible, the lives of those who suffer from cerebral palsy.
  • Houston Food Bank – a private non-profit organization and a certified member of Feeding America, the nation’s food bank network.
  • Neuhaus Education Center – a non-profit educational foundation dedicated to promoting reading success.
  • Families Empowered – a non-profit organization founded to support the escalating number of families searching for a great school for their child.
  • Disability Rights – recognizes the varied needs of people with disabilities in Texas.
  • HEP Bookstore – a homeschool resource; a bookstore specializing in instructional materials & books for home schooling in a range of subjects.

The One Step Closer Foundation provided the DJ and decorations for the bridge. In addition the foundation, along with the Houston Food Bank, backpacks and school supplies were also given away to patients and their siblings. The fair also provided opportunities for Texas Children’s departments such as Nutritionist, School Coordinators, Animal Assisted Therapy Program, Child Life, the hospital Dieticians, and schoolteachers, to showcase their skill set so that parents and students are more confident and prepared for the upcoming school year.

There was even a photo area created for parents to take school photos of their children. This was a very popular portion of the event for families, as it creates normalization for those who are not able to leave the hospital to attend school and pictures.

The social work department’s goal has been to create an immense presence and emphasize their role in maintaining exceptional patient experience year round.

“We work with families and provide them resources for the various agencies present, so we thought it would be great to bring the agencies here to the hospital,” Social Work Clinical Specialist DeAdra Cage said. “Providing resources to help parents work with the various schools is a big part of our job as Social Workers.”

Many parents who have children in the hospital may not have the time or financial ability to purchase all the necessities needed for school. This event was able to help make the start of the school year a little easier and among all things, let parents know that Texas Children’s is there to support them and their needs.

“It’s a great feeling to be able to assist our families who already have so much going on,” Cage said. “We are very proud of the outcome. As we anticipated, we had an awesome turnout! We were focused on helping the patients and siblings who happened to be on site the day of the event.”

With a goal of helping 300 children, the actual end result was 500. The back-to-school fair was an overall success and the Social Work Department hopes to make this an annual event for many years to come.

July 17, 2018

On July 9 the Cancer Center clinic surprised outpatients with a visit from Elsa, one of Texas Children’s three therapy dogs.

With the dogs constantly making their rounds throughout the hospital visiting inpatients, at times outpatients miss the opportunity to see their furry friends.

“Elsa and I spent a lot of time with the hematology oncology inpatient population during our first year and a half,” said Animal Assisted Therapy Coordinator, Sarah Herbek. “Our patients began to look forward to coming to the hospital and seeing Elsa during their admission. Their journey doesn’t end when they are discharged, and neither should their relationship with Elsa.”

As Elsa’s handler it was Herbek’s goal, along with other members of the Child Life department to provide continuity of care by following these patients throughout their entire treatment journey, inpatient and outpatient.

“I think Elsa and our Pawsitive Play Program have been especially impactful with our cancer patients because of the long duration of their treatment,” Herbek said. “Our patients come to Texas Children’s on a regular basis for months and sometimes years. Elsa’s presence is something they are able to look forward to during those times. They know that Elsa will be there when they need a shoulder to cry on, a paw to hold, or a furry friend to snuggle with.”

The hospital launched its Pawsitive Play Program in 2016 and it has become highly appreciated throughout the organization in just that small amount of time. The goal of the committee that introduced this program was to use animal-assisted therapy to enhance the emotional well-being of pediatric patients by reducing their anxiety, perception of pain and fear of hospitalization.

“As Executive Vice-Chair, I represented the Department of Pediatrics on Texas Children’s Hospital Facility Dog Steering Committee,” said Dr. Susan Blaney, director of Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers. “This committee is actively exploring multiple opportunities for children and their families to benefit from therapy dogs.”

Cancer treatment can be very painful physically and mentally. Adding a trained therapy dog to this stressful environment can increase a patient’s energy level and decrease any discomfort or anxiety.

Also, a lot of the patients in the clinic have severe conditions and are not able to experience situations that other children their age would. For one patient the visit from Elsa fulfilled this void with it being her first time interacting with a dog.

“It is very important for patients receiving treatment in the Cancer Center to be able to have time with Elsa because it is a meaningful interaction during a difficult time,” said Child Life Specialist, Katy O’Dell. “These interactions can boost the patients overall mood by allowing them to engage in activities with Elsa that are fun and interactive, which most importantly brings a smile to their face.”

Now that the Pawsitive Play program has grown and added both Bailey, the Legacy Tower therapy dog, and Pinto in Acute care, it has become even more impactful.

“The positive psychosocial impact of the therapy dogs is better than that of any medicine that we could prescribe,” said Blaney. “We are so thankful that Texas Children’s supports the therapy dog program and that we have world class child life specialists who work with this program to handle the dogs as well as to provide support to the children and their families.”