Child Life inspires giving

February 21, 2018

Kayla VanWyk knows what children and their families need, sometimes even before they do. As a Child Life Specialist at Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls, she steps in to make sure young patients have the best possible experience no matter what comes their way.

So when 9-year-old Lydia Elmen had a complication from a routine tonsillectomy and had to go back into surgery for the second time in one day, VanWyk knew what she had to do to ease little Lydia’s fears.

“I was filled with uncertainty—not knowing what to expect,” said Lydia’s dad, Richard Elmen. “To my surprise, Kayla came by with a wheelchair for Lydia to take her back to surgical, and gave her a ride on her lap to put her at ease. Kayla’s compassion and kind heart comforted Lydia and all of us when we needed it most.”

Richard was so moved by VanWyk’s actions, he recognized her with a Guardian Angel gift. The Guardian Angel program gives patients and their families the opportunity to thank a caregiver who made a special impact during their experience.

After learning more about Child Life, Richard subsequently created a $250,000 endowment through the James & Eloise Elmen Foundation to help grow this valuable service.

“The Elmen family’s gift helps provide sustainability to the Child Life program and allows for us to reach even more children with these services,” said Sheri Fischer, executive director of Sanford Children’s. “Without these types of gifts, much of the programming and equipment that makes us a world-class children’s hospital wouldn’t be possible.”


What is Child Life?

Sanford Children’s Child Life Specialists help children cope with the stress, fears and physical demands of illness, injury or hospitalization.

They also provide emotional support to parents and siblings and help prepare the family for every stage of the treatment plan.

“We have a very clear job description and responsibilities, but what’s hard to explain is how the job is carried out, how our specialists make a connection with these families and how we make our patients and families feel,” said Child Life Manager, Carrie Kindopp.

The job of Sanford’s Child Life Specialists changes every day depending on the specific needs of the patient. One day, they might be helping a family understand and process a difficult diagnosis. The next, they might be planning a formal dance in the hospital for a sick teenage girl who is missing her prom.

Child Life Specialists do whatever is needed to ease these families’ suffering and make Sanford Children’s not just a place of healing, but a place where kids can just be kids.

“Being a Child Life Specialist is more than a job,” Kindopp said. “It truly is a passion and a calling. To be part of a family’s journey in this way is an honor, and we are truly grateful for each of these experiences.”

Child Life services are provided to Sanford’s young patients and their families at no cost thanks to the support of our generous donors like the Elmen family. Help continue the outstanding work of the Child Life program with a gift today.