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Carly Primavera gets creative to give comfort

March is Child Life Month, a month where hospitals celebrate child life specialists and the Child Life profession through education and awareness of their work. To honor these dedicated professionals during the month of March, CMN Hospitals will highlight the top 10 nominees submitted for the 2020 Delta Child Life Specialist of the Year award.

Charlene “Carly” Primavera is a Child Life Specialist at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Proton Therapy Center, a radiation center that provides cancer treatment to pediatric patients.

These children come to the center daily, Monday through Friday, for 4 to 6 weeks to receive radiation treatments. Carly is one of the first people they get to meet. She works hard to find out about each patient’s favorite things — toys, movies, TV shows, music, books, games, etc. — and uses that information to make their visits as positive an experience as possible. 

When patients arrive, they can access their personal container of toys and games that Carly has assembled for them. She is also on hand to personally guide them through difficult procedures like anesthesia induction. She provides support to parents, grandparents, siblings and other family members and gives guidance and advice about how to explain diagnosis and treatment information to their children in developmentally appropriate ways. 

Many of Carly’s patients come from other countries and don’t speak any English. Carly makes sure they feel welcomed and have the support they need. 

As patients complete a day of treatment, Carly helps them celebrate the successful day. Many of the children place a sticker on a chart that Carly has made to track their progress. Recently, a patient wasn’t very interested in the sticker chart. Instead, Carly made them a paper chain so that they could remove a link after each daily treatment and count down to the end of their therapy. 

During treatment, Carly often finds creative ways to help patients feel more comfortable. She even had a treatment mask made for herself so she could accurately explain to the patients and their families what the experience is like. 

When one special patient needed help getting through their treatment, Carly came up with an innovative idea: placing scented lip balm inside the patient’s mask to distract them from the smell of radiation. She also gave them playdough to squeeze whenever they felt anxious. With these strategies, the patient made it through all 33 of their treatments. 

Each time a patient completes their therapy, Carly organizes a celebration for the patient and their team. She gets a gift for the patient and has all the team members sign a certificate of completion. The party has music, funny hats, and singing, and each celebration is tailored to the individual patient. 

In so many cases, for her patients and for the staff at the Proton Therapy Center, Carly doesn’t just make treatment easier. She makes it possible.

Carly Primavera is from Indianapolis, Indiana. She is a proud graduate of Indiana University (go, Hoosiers!). She loves dogs, singing, dancing and yoga. 

Child Life Specialists help normalize the hospital experience and bring joy and comfort to hospitalized kids and their families. Many of the funds raised by CMN Hospitals are used to fund Child Life programs and help make up the gap between what government and insurance pay for and the actual cost of caring for kids in our member hospitals.