Meet Hanna: Child Life Professional

For Child Life Month in March, Speak Now for Kids honors child life professionals who are dedicated to helping children with difficult health circumstances. The following testimonial is courtesy of the Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP).

Hanna Bratt, CCLS, CTRS is a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) at Inova Children’s Hospital, where she’s one of several child life specialists working with cardiac patients and their families. She offers support and education to children and families during visits to the heart clinic, pre-op appointments, and post-op recovery and therapy.

3-1_Child_Life_and_Heart_Month_-_Hanna_in_clinical_setting.jpgAs a CCLS trained in the psychosocial care of pediatric patients, Hanna plays a critical role as part of an interdisciplinary healthcare team that includes doctors, nurses, and physician assistants as well as physical, occupational, and speech therapists. By reducing anxiety, frustration, fear, and pain for patients and providing education and support for the entire family, Hanna helps to minimize trauma related to medical procedures and hospitalization and improves the patient and family experience.

When a child needs heart surgery, Hanna is there every step of the way. She prepares and educates the patient about what to expect and offers support during pre-op procedures like EKGs and lab work. Using a customized teaching doll, Hanna shows patients the tubes and lines they’ll see when they come out of surgery, so their post-op state doesn’t come as a shock.

Hanna’s role continues after surgery as well, when she helps with pain management, advocates for relaxation techniques and comfort measures, and offers encouragement during the recovery process. She even provides support to siblings who may be just as confused and scared as the child who needs surgery.

Although children are resilient and their bodies heal quickly, recovering from surgery can be particularly challenging for the pediatric population. Children have differing levels of understanding, and part of Hanna’s job is to assess a patient’s comprehension skills and emotional maturity and then provide age-appropriate education.

For example, a 3-year-old may struggle to understand the purpose behind the tubes and the poking and prodding. In some cases, a child may be in the process of developing language or not know how to express fear, pain, or frustration. And children are often particularly impacted by their loss of independence (walking or using the bathroom, for example) because they worked so hard to achieve those developmental milestones and were understandably proud of their accomplishments.

Although many children who need heart surgery were diagnosed with a congenital heart defect at a young age, or even prenatally, that’s not always the case. One of Hanna’s patients was a girl around 11 years old who learned she needed surgery during a hospital visit and had only a couple of days to prepare.

Using coping and relaxation plans, Hanna helped the patient get through surgery and then the post-surgery experience, which included chest tube removal, therapy, central line poles, and IV starts. The girl responded well to the support Hanna provided, particularly the relaxation plan and talking through the procedures. When the patient left the hospital, she was healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Hanna’s role supporting children and families doesn’t end when the patient is discharged from the hospital. She also organizes an annual cardiac picnic attended by families with children who have had heart surgery at Inova as well as the entire cardiac healthcare team.

The picnic is an opportunity for families who have been through similar experiences to socialize, for parents to express gratitude for the medical care their children received, and for Hanna and her colleagues to see former patients returning to normal life and activity.

To learn more about the child life profession and how Certified Child Life Professionals help children facing acute and chronic illness, injury, trauma, disability, loss and bereavement, visit the ACLP website.

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