Johnathon and Lauren Hodges of Florence, Alabama weren’t aware of child life or child life specialists until their 4-year-old son Cooper was admitted to Children’s of Alabama’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). They didn’t anticipate the familiar faces that would comfort their family through their hospital stay and beyond.
“We didn’t know about it at all before, but it made all the difference in the world as far as Cooper’s attitude and emotional and mental state,” Lauren said. “Being in the hospital is not easy and it’s not fun, but child life brought a level of happiness and fun to a not-so-fun situation.”
Cooper, who underwent treatment for a tumor on his spine, was often restricted to his room as he was on a ventilator. Every day, he looked forward to his visit with child life specialists Allison Miller and Lindsay Joe, who made special plans for Cooper to attend child life events whenever possible.
“He got to go to the Candy Land event and he couldn’t have been more excited,” Lauren said. “But if there was an event or party he couldn’t attend, they would bring toys and crafts from the party to his room. He was always included no matter what.”
Miller also introduced the Hodges to the Beads of Courage program, which helps children record their stories during treatment for cancer and other serious illness. Every bead Cooper collected for a bracelet or necklace represented an accomplishment, be it a chemotherapy treatment or an imaging appointment.
“Cooper got so many beads, and each time Cooper would go to an appointment, the nurses and doctors took the extra time to make [Beads of Courage] a priority,” Lauren said. “He loved to make those necklaces and bracelets, and he could tell you what they all meant! It was something we were very proud of and he was very proud of.
“Cooper ultimately passed away, and though the reason we were at Children’s was horrible, we have a lot of love for the hospital,” Lauren said. “When we visit Birmingham, some people may think it’s hard for us to see Children’s, but we tell people we made a lot of memories there. It was a horrible time, but it was also a wonderful time. We have good memories.”