Meet Jessie: Certified Child Life Specialist
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).
Jessie Gordon, M.Ed., CCLS, CIMI, is the child life specialist for the PICU at Norton Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. Her unit consists of 26 intensive care beds, some of which are dedicated to cardiac patients, and she also follows pediatric advanced heart failure and transplant patients throughout their stay.
Jessie coordinates the SibStars programming for siblings of chronic patients, many of whom are intubated, on a ventilator or sedated. She helps children understand a sibling’s diagnosis and encourages interaction and bonding. Always considering the sibling’s developmental stage and comfort level, Jessie helps them make meaning of the process, affirms their feelings, and helps them feel included and useful—often with simple gestures such as decorating the room or choosing a special blanket. A successful outcome might be a sibling climbing up in bed next to a brother or sister after weeks of being unwilling to enter the room.
Jessie also helps siblings say goodbye. A focus of her work is inclusion at time of death and acknowledgement of grief, interventions that can decrease the likelihood of complicated grief. At Norton Children’s Hospital, staff offer a variety or memory-making options such as three-dimensional plaster hand molds, handprints, thumb prints and locks of hair.
The child life department also offers families recordings of their child’s heartbeat. “The heartbeat,” says Jessie, “is the center of a child. When we think about loving, the heart is what we think of.” Jessie uses a modified cardiac-specific stethoscope that has been converted to contain a small recording microphone within its tubing that ends with a connective cable for a laptop. Once a clear heartbeat is isolated, the track is uploaded to a sound box, which is placed in a stuffed animal designed with a velcro opening in the back.
Initially, the recorded heartbeats were used exclusively in bereavement situations, but Jessie soon realized that many other siblings separated from a brother or sister awaiting a transplant could benefit from this technology as well. Eva, one of Jessie’s patients, is able to see her two older siblings, Ethan and Emily, only on special occasions. To help the siblings and other family members with the separation, Jessie recorded Eva’s heartbeat, uploaded it to a sound box, and gave each sibling a stuffed animal with Eva’s heartbeat. Ethan and Emily know Eva is waiting for a transplant and love being able to hug their animals and hear her tiny heartbeat any time they want.
Jessie wishes all patients could leave the hospital healthy and happy, but sadly that’s not the reality. She can’t change the outcome, but she can positively impact the experience, “I love having the opportunity to serve patients, siblings, and other family members during this time. I recognize that, while I cannot change the final outcome, I can impact the journey.” She feels privileged to help make the journey one in which the voices of patients and families are heard and to support and encourage coping and bereavement for siblings and families.