For most people, a typical day at work doesn’t involve extreme joy and intense sadness. But most people don’t have Kim Thompson-Yates’ job — program coordinator of the Mapp Child & Family Life Center at USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital.
“Every day is different,” says Thompson-Yates. “You have traumatic things happen. But there’s an intrinsic reward here in getting to see so many people recover and get well. Even when kids don’t recover, friendships are formed with the families. Those relationships mean the world to us.”
An integral part of the USA Health System, Children’s & Women’s Hospital is one of a handful of freestanding hospitals in the country devoted exclusively to the care of children and women. Children, from infants through high school, come here for an array of reasons. Some have traumatic injuries. Others are suffering from serious diseases such as sickle cell and cancer. Some children are here for months. Some spend portions of their entire childhood here.
The children require special care to ease the anxiety and stress of their illnesses. And like all children, they need activities, recreation, and, for those of school age, education. The Mapp Child & Family Life Center provides all of this.
The Center houses eight dedicated professionals as well as student interns. It includes therapists, counselors, recreation specialists, child life specialists, and teachers from the Mobile County Public Schools System. The patients have class in the morning and activities in the afternoon. There’s a dedicated play area for preschoolers. For children who are bedridden, the Center brings class and activities to their room. All of this conveys to the children that no one’s giving up on them.
“To be able to go to a child here and say, ‘You’ve got to continue in school,’ it gives them a vision that ‘I’m going to be okay,’” explains Thompson-Yates. “We try to keep that child’s life as normal as possible. If you’re here on your birthday, we want to help celebrate. For holidays, we have Santa, the Easter Bunny, trick or treating, and Mardi Gras parades. Proms and graduation, if you need one; whatever it is to keep you from missing a developmental milestone in your life while you’re hospitalized.”
This commitment to the children is what led Thompson-Yates to shave her head last March to raise money for children’s cancer research – and to do it again this year. The annual event is called “St. Baldrick’s.” For Thompson-Yates, it was an honor to show solidarity with young cancer patients.
“At first, these kids are mortified that their hair might fall out,” she says. “But you soon see them after that and their heads are high. They represent so much strength to me. I wanted to do something to give back.”