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Child life specialist offers families pre-op tours at Banner Thunderbird

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  • Banner Thunderbird pediatric pre-op

    The pediatric pre-op room at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center is where Erica Jorgenson informs patients and their families about their surgery.

Posted: Thursday, April 6, 2017 12:00 am

Erica Jorgenson is neither a doctor nor a nurse, but may be one of the most important people at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center.

Erica Jorgenson
Child life specialist Erica Jorgenson shows families what to expect before surgery at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center. Photo courtesy Erica Jorgenson

A certified child life specialist, Jorgenson has worked at Banner Thunderbird five years and wanted to assist patients and parents in easing their minds before surgery.

She worked for more than four years in the pediatric emergency area before moving to in-patient to learn about pre-op setups before starting pre-op surgery tours in January.

“After moving to in-patient last June, I got my feet wet on the workings of the department,” Jorgenson said. “Then, we started the pre-op tours in January here at Banner Thunderbird and the response has been amazing.”

She is charged with explaining medical procedures to the hospital’s youngest patients and with making hospital stays a little more bearable for the child and his or her family. Although her patients can range from newborn to 18, Jorgenson said her role is the same: Explain to the patient what they can expect, help them manage, or cope, with pain and provide activities for the patient.

“If kids are prepared, the outcomes are better for everybody,” Jorgenson said. “I also try to ease all their misconceptions about what will happen during the procedures.”

Child life specialists have been part of pediatric medicine 50 years, according to a report from the Mayo Clinic. Through the years, the job has expanded to include support during medical procedures, therapeutic and recreational activities, support for families, grief counseling, emergency room visits, pre-admission hospital tours, outpatient consultation, special events ranging from visits from celebrities to Santa Claus, and educating others about the needs of children who are under medical stress.

Jorgenson said she has learned there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to her patients.

“Every child is different,” she said. “You learn when you need to quit talking to a child, when to let them see and touch equipment and when they may need more explanation.”

She said she has made a flier and placed it in most pediatric areas of the hospital and does not pressure parents or patients into taking advantage of the program.

She said, “If they feel it will help them, then I will show them everything and I believe the parents have been very happy with seeing the things before and it eases their minds.

“Fear of the unknown is what I preach every day,” Jorgenson said. “It’s my job. I use child-friendly language and do everything to put their minds at ease. Kids and parents both have a lot of stress and anxiety and if I can help them feel better, then this is all worth it.”

Gary Fasula, whose son, Levi, recently had surgery at Banner Thunderbird, said the pre-op tour and support of Jorgenson was important to easing their stress.

“My son is a typical kindergartner and we thought it would be good to familiarize him with what he would be going through,” Fasula said. “(Jorgenson) let him handle a stethoscope, blood pressure cuff and let him decorate a mask with Disney stickers. She was amazing and really put (Levi) and our minds at ease.”

Jorgenson said she prefers no age group over another and treats every patient the same.

“I take the kids back to the operating room, change into scrubs and stay with them until they are asleep,” Jorgenson said. “Then, I go out and inform the parents that their kids are doing well.”

Fasula added that Jorgenson made a huge difference to his family and son during and after his surgery.

“She went in with him and then came out to update us about what was going on,” Fasula said. “Then, while he was in recovery, she found out they didn’t have popsicles where he was and she went and got one and brought it to him.

“I would definitely encourage parents with any questions to know that this was a great option if you have any questions before your child’s surgery. It was very helpful because we knew what was going on before, during and after surgery and it was extremely informative for us.”

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