Thursday, October 3, 2013 12:00 AM

Play-lady eases children's fear in hospital

A hospital can be a frightening place – especially if you’re a child and you don’t know what to expect. Community Regional Medical Center has a new Child Life program that helps children and their families in the hospital coping with what could be a very traumatic experience.

“The ultimate goal is to prevent stress and anxiety which [could] turn into long term issues such as post traumatic stress disorder,” said Sandra Yovino, Community Regional’s director of the Leon S. Peters Burn Center.

Kimberly Kozub is Community Regional’s first child life specialist who is a trained professional with expertise in helping children and their families overcome life’s most challenging events. Around the kids, though, she is better known as the “play lady.”

“My rapport with them is almost instantaneous; once they find out I’m the play lady, it kind of sets their [minds at] ease a little bit,” Kozub says.

Her primary role is to work on social, emotional and developmental issues while the patient is in the hospital, which is often done through teaching and playing. When a child comes into the hospital they receive a “shadow buddy” – a doll that can also be used as a teaching tool. The child is able to play doctor using the equipment they see in the hospital. For instance, they practice a procedure on their shadow buddy doll before they go through a procedure themselves.

Kozub says, “Kids are so resilient, nine times out of 10 [they] are mostly fine … because we do so much preparation with them; they know what’s coming.”

For the children who need an extra boost, they can put on their “brave cape.” Yovino explains, “When they are going through a painful procedure they get their cape on first; they become a super hero and when they are walking with that cape ... they’re brave!”

Using play can also help Kozub see how the child is coping. “When they don’t have the words to express how they’re feeling … if you put a doll in front of them or any kind of toy, you can kind of assess how they’re coping through their play.”

The child life specialist is there to help family members as well. If a sibling witnesses an accident, Kozub will help them cope and make sure that the family is at a good psychosocial level when they are reunited. Kozub also is sharing her knowledge by teaching the medical staff about subjects that will help them relate to the children for whom they are caring.

The need for a child life program is growing. Community Regional is the only comprehensive pediatric and adult burn center between Los Angeles and San Francisco. In 2012 alone, the burn center performed more than 11,000 burn procedures – nearly half of which were on children.

Generous donors have made this program and others available in burn services. Research shows the interaction a child life specialist brings a young patient can have a major impact on his or her well being.

Yovino agrees – “Healthier children, healthier families.”

Ginny Joslin reported this story. She can be reached at