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Carol VanDiest proves the worth of child life specialists

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.

When Carol VanDiest began her work as a Child Life Specialist 47 years ago, things were very different. Common practice in most hospitals prevented parents from staying with their children in trauma bays or through anesthesia induction. Over nearly five decades, Carol has worked to educate medical staff, patients and their family members on how to create a better hospital experience for families. 

Carol came to Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, with one other Child Life Specialist. The two started offering services in the emergency department through a grant-funded position. At first, they were met with some resistance, but Carol slowly and surely proved the worth of a Child Life Specialist program. 

As she modeled behavior, staff soon began making changes to enhance patient care and address psychosocial needs. 

Soon, Carol was also traveling to the hospital’s satellite campuses to teach staff in emergency departments that did not have Child Life Specialists how to better work with pediatric patients and their parents. 

Carol lives by the motto, “Treat others as you wish to be treated,” and she shares that message with everyone around her. Her dedication to her patients is evident as she makes personal connections and provides individualized care. 

In her most recent assignment in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Carol worked with a patient whose medical complications required her to lay flat for 150 days. Carol formed a relationship with this patient and helped her find enjoyable activities to pass the time like writing stories. Through her stories, the patient was also able to express her fears, worries, and frustrations, and process her emotional experience. 

The impact Carol has made extends far beyond when patients leave the hospital, as evidenced by a recent experience when a patient from 40 years ago found Carol on social media and reached out to once again express his gratitude. 

Carol VanDiest loves spending time with her family and traveling the world. She also loves to garden, sew, make jewelry, hike and bike. She loves Cleveland and is an avid fan of the Cleveland Indians and shows in the Playhouse Square theater district. 

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.