A day in the life of a child life specialist

The Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Department at CHOC Children’s strives to normalize the hospital environment for patients and families. “Normalizing” the hospital experience means making things like medical equipment and procedures feel less strange or foreign. By doing this, patients and families can feel more at ease while at the hospital and will be able to focus on what is most important: feeling better.

But just because we’re a children’s hospital, doesn’t mean we only treat little kids. CHOC child life specialists work with teen and young adult patients, too. Follow along for a day in the life of Karlie, an oncology child life specialist.

6:00 a.m. – My alarm goes off and I quickly push snooze. I lay in bed for a bit longer as I am still trying to master the art of getting out of bed as soon as the alarm tells me to. After a few more moments of relaxing I get up, ready to take on the day. I get ready, make some breakfast, pack my lunch and my workout clothes, and head out the door by 7 a.m. to get to work on time.

8:00 a.m. – After making it through infamous Southern California traffic, I arrive at work. During my drive, I usually listen to some sort of motivational worship talk or devotional and once I park, I say a quick prayer to help me be ready for the day. I walk into my office and greet my fellow child life specialists. The office is full of smiling faces, and despite the early hour, it’s already bustling with colleagues talking about various patients and their needs. I work on the hematology/oncology unit, but we have child life specialists embedded in practically every unit and area of the hospital. Our team is filled with energetic, gracious and positive people trying to provide the best support possible to the patients and families that we serve. I feel so grateful and able to take on the day with them by my side.

8:15 a.m. – To start the day, I get a copy of the patient census—an overview of the current patients admitted to the hem/onc unit. I also check the surgery schedule to know what surgeries or procedures my patients have that day.

8:30 a.m. – I head to a meeting with the oncology multidisciplinary team which consists of the medical and psychosocial team. We discuss various patients and their plans of care. We also discuss what psychosocial needs have already been met and what support they still need. We make sure to communicate with each other so that as a team we can ensure we’re meeting our patient’s physical, emotional, spiritual and mental health needs.

10:00 am – I head up to the hem/onc unit and check in with the bedside nurses, so I know what the plan for the day is for each of the patients that are on the unit. We discuss how we can work together to best help each patient. I talk to one nurse about a 17-year-old patient that was just admitted last night with a new diagnosis of leukemia. She tells me that he is feeling nervous about a procedure he’s scheduled for later that day. We go over my plan to support him and I tell her I will keep checking in and keep her updated with how the patient is feeling. I then go into his room and introduce myself and tell his family more about what child life has to offer in terms of “normalizing” the hospital environment. We also talk about what he likes to do, his favorite sports teams and who makes up his family. After we have built some rapport and trust, we talk about his upcoming procedure and I explain it in a way he’ll understand, and it helps ease his anxieties. We talk about why the doctors want him to get some tests done and what these tests will tell the doctors. We talk about the roles of each staff member he will meet, and how they will help him. We set up a hospital tour for later that day. In the meantime, I call my volunteers to drop off a soccer Xbox video game for him to play in his room while he waits.

10:30 a.m. – I get a call to come and help one of my long-time patients with her port access. A port is a medical device surgically placed under the skin in the chest that can be accessed with a needle for infusions and lab draws. When she was first admitted, we worked on coping techniques including medical play, and now she doesn’t get as anxious for procedures. She’s been in treatment for six months, but she still prefers me to be there, and I enjoy seeing her and being there for her. We play her favorite iPad game together while the nurse does the procedure. During the procedure I remind her of each step of the process as it comes, to help her feel empowered and ready. During the needle poke, we do deep breathing exercises together to breathe away any pain or discomfort, and she squeezes my hand. As soon as the poke is done we go back to playing on the iPad and laughing at inside jokes we’ve developed over the last few months. I applaud her for how well she has been doing with her port needle accesses and tell her how proud I am of her.

11:00 a.m. – I take the time to check in on some more patients that I know, and make sure they have everything they need for the day, including some fun activities to look forward to. A few of my longtime patients are in the middle of long hospital stays, so I come up with a plan for something fun and different for them to do that day to help make the most of every day they are there.

11:30 a.m. – I check in on my new 17-year-old patient and find that he is ready for his tour. We start by walking around the hem/onc unit and I show him the gym and the teen room. He loves air hockey, so I show him the air hockey table in the playroom as well.  On our tour, we cross paths with a pet therapy dog, so we stop to spend some time with him, and we all laugh as the dog does one of his famous tricks that he has practiced for a doggy treat. We then head down to the second-floor lobby to check out the amenities it has to offer. We check out Seacrest Studios (our in-house radio station), the movie theater, another teen room, Turtle Talk, and two outdoor patios. Child life organizes a lot of special events for patients, and today we are hosting several baseball players from the Angels. We stop by that event while we’re on the second floor and check out the games going on, crafts, giveaways and my patient snags a few photos with his favorite players before I escort him and his family back up to their room.

12:00 p.m. – I take time for a quick lunch break with my fellow child life specialists. I work with some of the kindest, strongest, most giving and selfless people that I know. We enjoy some great conversation about work and about our lives outside of work. My coworkers are my greatest support on the job and I feel grateful to be able to work alongside them and the other wonderful staff at CHOC. I am thankful every day for the wonderful coworkers I have that are also some of my closest friends!

1:00 p.m. – I head back up to the 5th floor to take part in one of the best parts of my job. Today we’re celebrating the final chemotherapy treatment of a 22-year-old patient. I have a trophy and a sign that reads “Happy Last Chemo!” I gather the nurses, clinical assistants, nurse practitioners, and any other available staff to join in. We parade into the patient’s room cheering, and sing the “Happy Last Chemo” song to the tune of “Happy Birthday.” As I look around the room, I see that the patient, her family, and all the staff have tears of joy in their eyes. We are so happy for this patient reaching the end of her treatment. This is definitely something worth celebrating.

2:00 p.m. – I get a call from the front desk that some special visitors are waiting for me. I know it is the surprise we have in place for another patient. This patient, a 13-year-old girl, has been in the hospital for a while and I know she could definitely use an emotional boost. Today is her golden birthday, which is the perfect time for a big surprise.  I reached out to a local jewelry store and asked for their help. They agreed to bring some cute gold jewelry items for this patient to help celebrate her golden birthday. I feel so grateful for our community partners that are so generous and willing to help our patients. Seeing my patient’s face light up warms my heart. She knows that she was thought of individually and that people wanted to make her day brighter.  I am so grateful to be able to help provide these special and meaningful experiences to a patient like her that is so kind, strong, and such an example of perseverance.

2:30 p.m. – I return to the room of my 17-year-old patient and take him down to the pre-operative unit for his scheduled procedure. We talk about new questions and concerns that he has thought of since this morning, but we also talk about the things in his life that are important to him; his friends, family, sports, school, and fast food. When it’s go-time, I stay with him as his parents go wait in the lobby. Before he receives anesthesia, I stay with him as we listen to his favorite artist and talk about what songs he likes. I’m a terrible singer, but we sing together to take his mind off the procedure. We continue doing this while the wonderful team of nurses, technicians, physicians and anesthesiologists get everything ready. The patient and I continue to talk, and I interject every once in a while, to let him know what the procedure staff is doing as we go along. It is time for him to receive his anesthesia and I talk with him until he falls asleep. Afterwards I thank the procedure room staff and doctors for all that they do and I exit the room for the procedure to begin.

3:00 p.m. – Afterwards I head back up to the hem/onc unit for a planning meeting for our biggest event of the year. Each year, the CHOC Children’s Oncology Ball presented by The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation is a chance for oncology patients and their friends to celebrate their life and all they’ve been through. This event is part of the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) treatment program. Our team spends months planning this event so that every patient, no matter their age, can feel like Prom King or Queen for the day.

4:00 p.m. – After that brainstorm meeting, I check in on the family of a newly diagnosed 2-year-old boy. As I enter the room I see that the patient is napping but that his big sisters have come to visit. I talk with the siblings and educate them about what they see in the room and help them understand their younger brother’s diagnosis through a medical play activity. I help them understanding what the nurses and doctors are doing to help him get better. We talk about how they are feeling and concerns and fears that they have. One sister thinks this diagnosis happened because she once got really mad at her brother for taking her toy. I assure her that her brother’s cancer is nobody’s fault, and that there is nothing anyone did wrong that made this happen. We talk about how they can help their brother while he is in the hospital. They can play with him, draw him pictures, give him hugs, wash their hands so he doesn’t get germs, and help mom and dad around the house. I want them to know that as siblings they are important too, and I am here to provide support to them as well. I remind them that every fun thing in the hospital is for them too! With their parents’ permission, I take them down to Seacrest Studios to hang out with the staff there. Seacrest Studios music and programming is broadcast to every patient’s room, and the girls get to help host the daily game of Bingo. To see them feel special and get the attention they need warms my heart. Illness really does affect the whole family and taking the time to acknowledge and be there for each family member is so important.

5:00 p.m. – After leaving the siblings in the excellent care of the staff in the Seacrest Studios I head back to my office to gather my things and head home for the day. On my drive, I call my mom who lives in Utah. I talk to my mom about my day as much as I can without breaking patient confidentiality. I enjoy talking to my parents and know they will always give me sound advice. My mom hands the phone over to my youngest brother, who is a senior in high school and we catch up on his day. I love hearing about my siblings’ lives. I am one of ten children!

5:30 p.m. – I arrive at the gym for my workout. Exercise is a great time to decompress from the day and relieve any stress I may be feeling from whatever sad or difficult situation that may have happened that day. I absolutely love my job, but it can be hard to watch these patients and families go through such difficult things― patients feeling sick, losing their hair, hearing that their cancer came back, having to get a poke for blood, and the reality of sometimes losing a patient to cancer, all takes a big toll on our staff. In addition to support from my colleagues, I also try to find things outside of work that help me cope, and working out is one of those things. Today was not one of those really difficult days, but running on the treadmill and doing some weight training definitely helps me decompress and transition out of work.

6:30 p.m. – I head home and make dinner while I talk to my roommates. We talk about our days and then we have friends come over for a fun game night.  It is a great night spent relaxing and connecting with friends.

10:00 p.m. – Time for bed so I can give tomorrow all the energy it needs! I count my blessings, especially being able to spend every workday with the most amazing kids, teens and young adults who are fighting their illnesses with grace, positivity, joy, strength, wisdom and the desire to make the most of every day. I look forward to tomorrow, and the opportunity to offer each patient and family member I come across my best care and support to make their day even a little bit brighter.

Learn more about CHOC's child life services

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CHOC Children’s leaders observe International Women’s Day

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, we are highlighting several CHOC Children’s female physician and nursing leaders. They offer insight and words of encouragement to women seeking to pursue careers in medicine.

Melanie Patterson, vice president patient care services and chief nursing officer

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“When beginning your career in medicine, don’t focus on one trophy. The fields of medicine and nursing have so many opportunities within them; be courageous and try new things. The most important aspect of leadership and of career success is to be kind. Remember to form your own opinion—go into every relationship with your eyes open and stop looking through others’ eyes; they don’t always have 20/20 vision.”

Dr. Mary Zupanc, pediatric neurologist and co-medical director of the CHOC Children’s Neuroscience Institute

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“When I went to medical school, women were not encouraged and it was hard. There were a lot of things that happened that made it very difficult, but medicine is truly one of the most gratifying professions you will ever have.

Every patient is different. I believe that if you really and truly listen, a patient and their family will give you the diagnosis you’re searching for. Everyone’s story is so fascinating, and that makes our work like being a detective. Sometimes I feel like Sherlock Holmes searching for answers. Then once you do find an answer, you need to work with the family to make sure the treatment works for their lifestyle, culture and religion. That makes the work challenging, fun and meaningful.

The best piece of advice that I’ve ever received is to never apologize for excellence. Anyone would want their doctor to strive for excellence – and that goes for any profession.”

Amy Waunch, nurse practitioner and trauma program manager

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“Never underestimate your capabilities; do not shy away from opportunities and always take on new challenges. Believe in yourself but don’t be afraid to ask for help. You may not have all of the answers all of the time, but you do have the ability to learn and grow.

Spot growth opportunities when they present themselves because they are the key learning opportunities. You will know because they make you uncomfortable and your initial impulse will be that you are not ready.”

Dr. Azam Eghbal, medical director, radiology

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“Since I was 7 years old, I wanted to be a doctor and becoming one has been the best decision of my life. As a female immigrant, I was told that I could never get to medical school, which of course motivated and challenged me even more to do so.

The best advice I’ve gotten is: don’t be discouraged about all your falls and obstacles, think about how you can succeed to get where you want to be.”

Dr. Amber Leis, plastic surgeon

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“My advice for women pursuing a career in medicine is to trust yourself! Early on in your career it’s easy to be overcome by feeling like you are not up to the task ahead of you. Your unique qualities will become your greatest strengths, so just keep chasing your passion.

I have great faith that if I stay true to my core principles, the right path will open in front of me. I try not to set specific goals for the future and instead I give my best to where I am. It keeps me focused on what I am doing now, and not distracted by trying to maneuver into some future place.

The best piece of career advice I’ve ever gotten has been ‘You get to choose what kind of person you will be.'”

Dr. Jasjit Singh, medical director, infection prevention and control

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“My advice for women pursuing a career in medicine is to follow your passion! There are few other careers that offer the personal satisfaction and the intellectual rigor that medicine does. Find a good mentor early in your career. Later, make sure your practice partners have abilities that you respect, and the talent to make your shared time together meaningful.

I learned early on that delegation and time management are important, particularly if you want to balance a medical career and family. You can’t always do it all, and prioritization is tantamount to success in all the different spheres of your life.

One of the best pieces of advice that I got was from a mentor during fellowship, who told me “It’s not enough to just be a good clinician.” He showed me the importance of asking good research questions and pursuing new knowledge. He also encouraged my love of teaching upcoming generations of pediatricians!”

Dr. Katherine Williamson, pediatrician

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“I love being a pediatrician. I help take care of kids every day and partner with their parents to help keep them healthy. To me, being successful is loving what you do because then working hard and being motivated to do well doesn’t feel like work; it’s fulfilling a passion.

When asked to give advice, I always say these three things: be yourself, don’t rush, and follow your heart every step of the way. Be yourself, always. No matter how busy or loud life gets, never lose sight of who you are and what you want to do.  Don’t be in a rush. Enjoy the journey because that is where you learn who you truly are. Lastly, follow your heart in every decision you make. When I look back on what got me to where I am in my career, I realize that it was not one or two big decisions that were the deciding factor, but instead it was a million little decisions along the way. And with each of those decisions I followed my heart and my passion.”





Explore career opportunities at CHOC.




Read more about our caregivers:

  • A day in the life of a child life specialist
    The Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Department at CHOC Children’s strives to normalize the hospital environment for patients and families. Follow along for a day in the life of Karlie, ...
  • CHOC1 Helicopter Marks 200th Flight
    Marking the launch of a new era for emergency transport services at CHOC Children’s, the “CHOC1” helicopter landed for the first time atop the Bill Holmes Tower at CHOC Children’s ...
  • What We’re Thankful for This Year: 2018
    CHOC Children’s physicians, nurses, staff and families share what they’re most grateful for this holiday season.

CHOC1 Helicopter Marks 200th Flight

Marking the launch of a new era for emergency transport services at CHOC Children’s, the “CHOC1” helicopter landed for the first time atop the Bill Holmes Tower at CHOC Children’s Hospital in 2018.

In just ten months, CHOC1 has clocked 200 flights, traveling all over Southern California, even as far north as Bakersfield, to transport critically ill patients to CHOC. On a typical afternoon, CHOC1 can fly to CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital in a mere seven minutes, as opposed to driving for one hour in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the freeways.

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The transport team is comprised of expert physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists.

The transport team is comprised of expert physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists. At the helm is Kevin Barber, lead pilot.

Throughout his 15-year career as a pilot, Kevin has flown many different types of aircraft on a variety of assignments, but he’s found the mission of flying children to be the most rewarding of his career. Prior to flying in the private sector, Kevin was a naval officer for seven years and holds a master’s degree in public administration.

“Aviation offers many different avenues but only being an emergency medical services pilot offers the ability to make a difference in your own community and help people on what is one of the worst days of their lives,” Kevin says. “Plus, the transport teams on our aircraft are top notch. There is a great amount of satisfaction flying with such professional physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists and paramedics.”

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CHOC1’s lead pilot Kevin Barber.

According to service partner Mercy Air, CHOC1 is the only helicopter in Southern California based out of a hospital, with four pilots and mechanics housed on site at CHOC, giving the transport team the ability to jump into action immediately.

State-of-the-art equipment on board

The helicopter is specially configured with high-tech equipment including neonatal isolettes and smart IV pumps that are loaded through the back of the aircraft and secured into a confined space.

One device in the helicopter is designed to cool critically ill newborn infants.

“To help reduce chances of neurological impairment in these sick newborn babies, cooling needs to be initiated within four to six hours of birth, or even earlier for better outcomes,” says Tari Dedick, manager of emergency transport services. “If we pick up a critically ill baby in the Inland Empire, we can begin cooling immediately at the bedside and continue the therapy in the helicopter on the way back to CHOC, saving precious time.”

Safety is the No. 1 priority for CHOC’s transport team.

Mercy Air maintains its Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems accreditation, which has stringent requirements about staff training, medical equipment and even what the CHOC transport team wears, including flight suits and helmets.

Among Kevin’s vast responsibilities as pilot is to closely track weight and balance restrictions. It’s often a tight squeeze in the helicopter, with every person and each device weighed prior to the flight to determine precise weight and balance.

Widening reach

CHOC’s transport team, using ground and air transportation, travels 100,000 miles each year to bring more than 4,000 patients to CHOC. Looking to the future, Tari says, the transport team anticipates eventually transporting trauma patients from all over Southern California to CHOC’s Level II pediatric trauma center.

“Without a doubt, CHOC1 is widening our outreach while bringing the Southern California community closer,” Tari says.

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What We’re Thankful for This Year: 2018

The  physicians, nurses, staff and patients that make up the CHOC Children’s healthcare community have much to be thankful for this year. In addition to opening our Mental Health Inpatient Center and expanding our Primary Care Network, we’re grateful to be able to offer best-in-class care to kids in Orange County and beyond. A few members of the CHOC community share what they are most thankful for this year.

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Kimberly Chavalas Cripe

Kimberly Chavalas Cripe, president & CEO, CHOC Children’s

“This Thanksgiving – and always – I am grateful for our mighty brigade of physicians, staff, volunteers, donors and community members who are committed to keeping childhood alive and well.  The holiday season is a time of wonderment for kids, and illness or injury shouldn’t dim the brightness of the holidays for our patients and their families.  Thank you to our team for working tirelessly to preserve the magic of childhood.”

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Chris Furman

Chris Furman, chairman, CHOC Children’s Board of Directors

“This year, I am thankful for the opportunity to serve as the incoming chairman of CHOC’s board of directors. Our entire board is dedicated to furthering CHOC’s mission to nurture, advance and protect the health and well-being of children in Orange County and beyond. We are honored to support CHOC’s passionate team of physicians and staff and privileged to play a part in bringing world-class care to children and families.”

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Cynthia Neiman

Cynthia Neiman, chief marketing officer

“There are so many things that I am thankful for this year! I am so thankful to be working here at CHOC alongside a “mighty brigade” of passionate clinicians, associates, and my amazing team who are all dedicated to preserving the magic of childhood. I am thankful to wake up every morning and do something that I love with people who have a shared mission. This year, I am especially thankful for my family and that all of us will be together in the same city to enjoy the holiday together.”

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Dr. Maryam Gholizadeh

Dr. Maryam Gholizadeh, pediatric general and thoracic surgeon

“I am grateful for many blessings in my life. To name a few: I am thankful to be part of CHOC Children’s, one of the best children’s hospitals, and have the opportunity to do what I love the most, and that is to take care of children. Second, it is truly an honor and privilege to be a surgeon and have the trust of families with their most precious gifts on earth, their children. And finally, I am grateful for the support of my wonderful colleagues and all the staff at CHOC Children’s that allows me to do my job the best way I can.”

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Amanda Webb

Amanda Webb, emergency department charge nurse

“I am thankful to serve children and families who come to the Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department at CHOC Children’s. It’s my privilege to be a source of calm and care for our patients and families during a daunting and scary time. I’m also so grateful to work with a truly transformational leadership team, and alongside dedicated and compassionate staff who make up the best group I’ve collaborated with during my career.”

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Annette and Richard Symons

Annette and Richard Symons, CHOC Champions

“I am grateful that CHOC has given me the opportunity to build upon my parents’ legacy of giving. CHOC helped my husband and me realize our desire to establish a spiritual care endowment—walking alongside us throughout the entire process, putting our philanthropic goals first and working hard to make everything easy for us. As a long-time member of the Small World Guild, I’ve been fortunate to see the incredible healing and support that CHOC provides children and families. I’ve come to find that the more you get involved at CHOC, the more you learn just how amazing it is.”       -Annette Symons

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Dr. Charlie Golden

Dr. Charlie Golden, executive medical director, CHOC Children’s primary care network

“With each year that passes, all of us experience the many trials and blessings of life. As a father and a husband, I am truly thankful for my family, and am reminded every day by them of the true purpose of life. As a physician, I am thankful for my patients and staff, as they enlist me for advice, confide in me their most sacred concerns, and place their trust in me. As a physician executive, I am thankful for the skilled team of physicians and leaders that I work with who share a vision and work tirelessly to provide the highest quality healthcare to all children. Finally, I’m so very grateful for CHOC Children’s, and our vision to be a leading destination for children’s health.”

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Christian and his dad Bernabe

Christian, age 8, patient

“I’m thankful for my dad for making my favorite foods. I’m thankful for my mom because when I can’t sleep she climbs in my bed and lays with me until I fall asleep.”

Bernabe, Christian’s dad

“Thank you to every doctor and nurse for the special care they provide to Christian. I’m thankful for Jody, an oncology nurse practitioner because my son lights up whenever she comes into his room to check on him. Jody and Christian have a special bond.”

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Mallorie Boeing

Mallorie Boeing, pediatric intensive care unit registered nurse, CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital

“This year and every year for the past four years since I became a member of the CHOC organization, I am thankful for my CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital family. From our unit assistants, electroencephalogram (EEG)  techs, child life specialists and volunteers, to our doctors and nurses both at CHOC Mission and Mission Hospital, I am thankful to be a part of such an amazing and passionate team of individuals. I am especially thankful this year for CHOC’s ability to provide tuition assistance while I obtain my master’s degree and for creating such a fun and positive work environment. I am also thankful for CHOC’s continued dedication to providing safe, high-quality, patient-and-family-centered care to all of Orange County’s smallest residents.”

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Dr. Kelly Davis

Dr. Kelly Davis, pediatric sports medicine specialist

“I was a resident at CHOC several years ago and am so thankful to be a part of the CHOC community again. I am thankful for all of my colleagues who help me continue to grow and learn as a physician. I am thankful for my patients who are the young budding athletes of the future. They entrust me with their pains and concerns and allow me to care for them and help them stay healthy while they achieve their sports dreams. Being at CHOC as a resident taught me so much and significantly shaped the doctor that I am today. I am most thankful to now be able to give back and pass on my love for teaching and our healthcare system to the next generation of doctors.”

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Dr. Joffre Olaya

Dr. Joffre Olaya, pediatric neurosurgeon

“I am so grateful for the privilege of working at CHOC Children’s and the chance to be part of a premiere clinical team within CHOC’s Neuroscience Institute. I take pride in working alongside such an incredible team of healthcare providers who understand that we care for the most vulnerable population. Shouldering this responsibility propels us to strive to deliver the best possible care to our patients facing neurological disorders. I’m humbled that parents entrust us every day with their children’s medical care.”

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Danielle Frausto with CHOC colleagues’ daughters

Danielle Frausto, registered nurse, neonatal intensive care unit

“CHOC has given me the opportunity to do what I love most. It is an honor to come to work every day and take care of our fragile patients.”

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Lisa Schneider

Lisa Schneider, nurse manager, mental health inpatient center

“I am very thankful for everyone who has warmly welcomed me into the CHOC family and also for CHOC’s dedication to pediatric mental healthcare. This is the first organization that I have encountered that is so passionate about de-stigmatizing mental illness and prioritizing mental health prevention, recognition and treatment in children. We are truly impacting the children in our area and are setting a higher standard for mental health care across the country.”

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Two Premature Babies, Two NICU Journeys: Rosie’s Story

Serving patients and families of Pediatric & Adult Medicine (PAM), a part of the CHOC Children’s Primary Care Network, for nearly 25 years would give anyone a unique perspective of CHOC.

But for Rosie Echevarria, a front office administrator, that understanding goes even deeper. After all, both of her children required an extra level of care in CHOC’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) when they were born decades ago.

“When I joined PAM, I didn’t have children at the time, but I knew that when I eventually started having kids, that they would be born at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange,” Rosie says. “That way, they could be right across the street from NICU if anything were wrong and they needed extra care. A lot of our patients had been treated at CHOC, and I just sort of knew that if my future babies went to CHOC, that everything would be OK.”

Rosie had no way of knowing that she would indeed become a NICU mom.

Clarissa, Rosie’s eldest child, was born at St. Joseph via C-section at 29 weeks gestation. Rosie stayed behind to recover from surgery while Clarissa was quickly transported to CHOC’s NICU. Facing a premature birth and the unexpected hospitalization of her first baby left Rosie feeling scared and worried.

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“My husband stayed by our daughter’s side, and when they got to the NICU, the doctors explained to him everything that was happening to our daughter,” Rosie says.

Rosie was able to join her daughter in the NICU the next day.

“Once I was transported up to the NICU in my wheelchair, the nurses reassured me that they would take care of my baby night and day, and that I could visit anytime,” Rosie says. “They explained everything that would happen, and what all the monitors she was hooked up to were for—I was included in every decision and considered part of the team.”

Rosie fondly recalls the personal way that Clarissa’s team of NICU nurses cared for her daughter 20 years ago.

“Because she was so little, she couldn’t really open her eyes—so her nurses made her a little eye mask with eyelashes and eyes,” she says. “It was so cute!”

Clarissa spent almost three months in the NICU.

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“The care she received was absolutely the best, from day one to release date,” Rosie recalls. “The doctors were wonderful as well. I think my daughter had the very best doctor because I would get a call every single time anything would happen, or if I needed to get to the hospital right away.”

During that time, she needed two blood transfusions. Before she could be discharged, CHOC nurses trained her parents on how to care for her using equipment she took home, including an oxygen tank and an apnea machine.

“They explained everything to me and reassured me that there was no need to be afraid—that Clarissa wasn’t in danger,” Rosie says.

A few years later, her son, David, was born at 32 weeks gestation at St. Joseph Hospital, and was immediately transported to CHOC’s NICU. Since Rosie already had a little one at home, she couldn’t spend as much time with her son in the NICU as she had spent when she was a first-time parent.

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“I was very sure the nurses would take really good care of him because I had already experienced it the first time,” she says. “I was never in fear that my child wasn’t taken care because I know the level of care that the CHOC NICU provides.”

David stayed in the NICU for two weeks before he was ready to go home — although his mom recalls that at that time he was never quite ready to wake up.

“He loved to sleep! He would never wake up. So, when we were getting discharged, we went home with a monitor and caffeine that staff showed me how to use and administer.”

clarissa-graduation
Today, Clarissa is a student at UC Irvine.

These days, Clarissa is studying forensics at UC Irvine.  She loves to travel and go to concerts with her mom. Clarissa lives with cerebral palsy and receives care from Dr. Samuel Rosenfeld, a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at CHOC. David is a high school student who loves illustration and dreams of becoming an art teacher.

david-school
David is now a high school student who dreams of becoming an art teacher.

Because of their prematurity, both had eye surgery when they were younger. Both sister and brother have regular eye exams with Dr. David Sami, a pediatric ophthalmologist at CHOC.

“The three words that come to mind when I think of CHOC are: caring, loving and reassurance,” Rosie says. “Doctors and nurses provide such excellent care and treat their patients as if they were their own children. As a first-time mom, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was never in fear. CHOC made me feel like everything was going to be OK.”

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