Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Leaving a Legacy

After looking at all the pictures on my camera, I must say that the picture I chose comes closest to capturing the purpose of our journey; to educate, to share knowledge, to empower.
During our home visits of families with a child on hospice care, I met a very special family of four; Mom, Dad, Victoria, who is 6 years old, and her younger brother. Victoria is dying of cancer. She lies on the couch, where her family and nurses tend to her every need. Her body and face are swollen from steroids. She can no longer see. She asks for help for her pain repeatedly. She communicates in 2-3 word phrases, answering direct questions with “da” or “no”. Her favorite color is pink. She loves to eat thin slices of pear.
After our home visits, Audra and I presented educational material to the hospice staff titled “Leaving a Legacy”. By providing families with legacy building activities, professionals and caregivers join with families to validate the significance of their child’s life and the impact they have had on their family, their community and the world. We guided one of the staff members through the process of making a 3-Dimensional Hand Mold – a legacy building activity frequently used by Child Life Specialists at Cook Children’s.
When the hand mold was complete, the nurse, social worker and volunteer who work with the family I met earlier, asked if I would return to their home and do the activity with Victoria. We had enough material left for one attempt, with no mistakes.
I used this opportunity to model for Ester and Lydia how to describe each step and the sensory experiences Victoria would encounter before it occurred and then asked Victoria for permission before proceeding – the support Lydia would provide by letting Victoria lean against her chest so she would be comfortable while we worked, the minty smell of the impression material, the sound the spoon would make as Ester quickly mixed the material, and the feel of her hand resting in the cool, sticky pink “mud”. Her brother sat close by, overseeing every step.
After Esther poured the casting material, we had to return to the University to meet up with the group for dinner. While in the stairwell of the apartment building, Esther threw her arms around me and buried her head in my neck, saying, “I can do this! I can do this! I know that I can do this!”
By sharing our knowledge, and empowering others, I witnessed their belief that they can meet the needs of their community and lead their country to improve the quality of care for all the children of Romania.

~ Jada Wilson

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Reflections #1

As I walked into work on Monday morning, I could not help but to stop and look around. I stood in the atrium taking in the details of our facility, watching people headed to their destinations and absorbing the feeling of unity. Oh, how much we have to be thankful for! Our trip to Romania was a humbling experience with a huge dose of perspective; I am honored to be a part of its purpose. I have permanent visions imprinted in my mind; both sad and inspiring that will change my heart forever.

I feel we were successful in our mission. I am encouraged by the determination of the people to further the visions of Child Life, as they work to bring change to their country. I cannot wait to see what the future will bring to the children of Oradea.

Audra Trussell

This was an amazing experience! I was lucky enough to work each day with the social work students at Emanuel University. I was able to see them blossom as the new ideas sunk in and they began to see greater possibilities for their world. I was amazed by the fact that several of them came up to me and said “I will make a difference in Romania.” They were so passionate and hopeful. I also felt the hope at the Sunshine School as the staff talked about loving the children there like they loved their own and their desire to help the children reach their full potential. I realized that we were speaking the same heart language, even if they were speaking Romanian. Though it was sad to see the poverty and the fear of change that existed, I left with a feeling of hopefulness for this area of the world. I saw as many similarities as differences and a sense of passion that will have an impact in ways we can’t even imagine. I look forward to being a part of this as we (hopefully) work with students from the university and the hospice program.


I didn’t know what to expect when I left for Romania. I was so excited and yet a little nervous. I had never been on a trip like this. We had many meetings before leaving and the closer it got, the excitement and anticipation grew. I was so excited to talk about our volunteer program and be able to help them set up a volunteer database along with providing resources to help them recruit volunteers in a country that saw volunteering has a “job” and not something to do because you want to.

I also got to see the Child Life Staff in action! I don’t get to see that very often so it was a joy and a blessing to me to see them provide the families/children with their knowledge and seeing the difference they can make in a child’s life.

I have to admit that it was very overwhelming to me to see everything we did. The country, the hospital and the children. I’ve never experienced anything like I did while there. I am grateful that I got the opportunity to be a part of this special group. I do look at things with a different perspective since I’ve gotten home. I came back with a bigger heart, more love for what I have in my life and where I work, new friendships and realizing that God will have a bigger impact in my life.


Before I left for Romania, a friend wrote to me and said, "although you are planning on bringing so much to Oradea, I feel that you will come away with so much more." She was so right!!! As our team began a legacy in the city of Oradea, every moment and encounter I experienced, left a lasting impression on my heart.

From the education we provided to the hospital and hospice staff to the collaboration with the President of Emanuel University, it was exhilarating to see the foundation of Child Life and its concept being accepted and the process beginning to form. The therapeutic activities and psychosocial support we provided for the patients in hospice care and for the patients at the local children's hospital was life changing. I will forever be changed by their smiles, their perseverance, and their incredible wisdom.

As I reflect upon my time in Oradea, Romania, I have truly been impacted by the impeccable hospitality and generosity of everyone, and more importantly, by their desire for hope. As I begin to ponder what my future role in Oradea will be, I am left feeling completely humbled, yet energized by this city's future. My prayer is that God will continue to utilize me to help Him intervene within this amazing city called Oradea.

~Janis Smith

This trip was an experience of contrasts for me in only one week. My visit to the Emanuel Kindergarten for their Mother’s Day celebration was a delight. The children participated in a program for their mothers and presented them with flowers at the end, a celebration that would be very typical in America also. The visit to the children’s hospital was very different however. As our Child Life Specialists shared in activities on 2 wings of the hospital, I worked as a runner and photographer between the 2 groups. During this process, I was able to observe parents and nurses as they observed the delight of the children as they worked and played together. I caught a glance of parents as they walked past the room on the boy’s wing, hesitated, and looked amazed by what was going on with the children. A vigilant nurse stood at a safe distance and watched from afar. She preferred not to interact with any of us, but appeared very interested in what was going on with our staff and the children. Supplies and interaction amongst patients is very limited in their hospital setting, but we are optimistic that they were able to see possibilities. Our translator, a college student from the university that was coordinating our trip, was extremely moved by this experience at the hospital. She has a very big heart and plans to dedicate her future to Romanian children. We all have no doubt that she will have an impact in her country.

Through the commitment and perseverance of Raelene Soritau there is a new day coming in the pediatric medical community of Oradea. While it will not happen overnight, she has the grace and tenacity to overshadow the skepticism of some of the medical staff. We all share in her optimism and were blessed in this experience.


I could never put into words, at least words that flow and make sense, what this past week was like in Oradea, Romania. I’ll try… It was beautiful and hard, hopeful and difficult, precious and deeply impactful. For me, this was more of a part of my spiritual journey than I even knew it was going to be. Jesus is the same in Oradea, Romania, and the students of Emanuel University and the workers of Emanuel Hospice believe that with Jesus and love of the Lord, they can change Romania for the Lord’s glory. And if I didn’t walk away with anything else, that was the most beautiful thing to walk away with. We left our ideas, perspective, applications, and expertise of Child Life and the psychosocial needs of children in the hands of some very passionate, determined women and men. It was by far one of the most humbling experiences that I have had…I’m humbled as an American, a Christian, a woman, and a Child Life Specialist. With help from the Lord, their new knowledge of Child Life, and the dedication of many of the students and leaders we met over the week, I look forward to seeing Oradea, Romania be changed for the glory of the Lord and things made more right there sooner than later! J

~ Ashley Pagenkopf

Friday, March 12, 2010

Tears of Joy

Today we visited an orphanage and met with many of the staff from there. The orphanage was in Arad which is about an hour and a half away. It was an incredible place and made our hearts smile like you can't imagine!!! It is modeled off of many group homes in America. It was very clean and well-kept with a terrific program. They even have a dog on the grounds for the kids to love on. :) We will post pictures soon of this.

Then we went on to a private hospital in Arad that specializes in OB-GYN and small surgeries. It was the cleanest hospital I have ever been in. It is about 6 months old and it took a while to make the vision of the hospital actually happen. Elijah's cousin is one of the main doctors there and delivered Tori when she was born. He was a warm and friendly man with a heart of gold. They were very proud of what they had in Arad as they should be. It was truly beautiful. Again - pictures will come.

Then we stopped in a village on the way home to take in yet another grocery store and a jewelry store with Romanian silver. :)

When we returned to Oradea, we went and ate at the restaraunt that we ate at Sunday night and had an amazing time visiting with all of the Soritau's - all of them were there including the kids. :) We also had another incredible dessert - we are eating our way around Romania!!!!

We ended the night giving the Soritau's all of our left-over American food and medicine and supplies! :) And then we spent time praying for them and another one of the students here. It was such a special time getting to love on them and pour into them. They have been amazing at showing us hospitality and pouring into us this week so this time was extra special.

We leave tomorrow morning for Budapest. We leave with tears of joy...we are leaving our passion and shared love for children and new skills with some very competent and passionate people. We are excited to see what lies ahead and we are certain we will return to Romania to see even more of a vision being accomplished. We have met our Romanian soul mates and we are so humbled... With tears of joy and hope we say, "Pace, and see you again soon, Romania and Emanuel!!!"

A Smile Needs No Translation

The last few posts have been somewhat lighthearted as we have processed and dealt with all of our emotions. We have had wonderful times of laughter; a needed balance to the heartache, visions and frustrations that we have witnessed and experienced this week.

The following are some of our thoughts to share with you from our visit to the children’s hospital, which is funded and run by the Romanian government.

Not knowing what to expect I was a little nervous when the children came to their lunchroom. Would I be able to communicate with them, help them or most important of all make a connection with them? This little girl walked in with a little pink bathrobe and sat at the end of the table, with her head down. But I caught her eyes looking up at all the art supplies on the table. I pointed to the foam craft, smiled at her and asked if she wanted to use these. She looked down, but nodded her head, yes. I helped her with the project, talking to her, not knowing if she understood me or not. When she put the last piece on her artwork I looked at it and said “Pretty” that’s when I felt her small hand on my arm. I looked into her face and she was smiling at me. My whole chest hurt and I knew then I had made a connection with her. –Laura

I had prepared myself for a pretty dismal sight when we visited the children’s hospital and I was not disappointed. From the chunks of tiles missing, to holes in the walls to the terrible smells, this is what I saw. And yet, here were these children, some abandoned and alone and some with dedicated parents, in this place that we would deem so horrible. This is their reality. I knew within this reality, we had come to bring one small light to shine; one spark to light a fire. Just spending a small amount of time with these children, we were able to see their light shine. They showed us their happiness and their smiles in a difficult situation. A child’s resilience can teach an adult a lifetime of lessons. I came hoping to help the children of Oradea – and in a small way I think I have. But more importantly is what the children and families of Oradea have taught me. This makes the love and dedication I have for children all the more stronger and I thank them for that.


I had the rare privilege of being asked by the staff to come spend time with a 2-and-a-half year old girl, whose room was at the end of the oncology ward. She stays in the back. She is very sick. She has no family. As the nurse and interpreter escorted me further and further away from the rest of the children and our Child Life staff, despair wrapped itself around me, weighing me down. Neither woman looked at or spoke to me. The door that separated these isolation rooms from the rest of the world shut behind us like a prison door. It was truly isolation. After putting on a gown, shoe covers and a mask, the nurse escorted me into the patient’s room. She picked up the little girl, who had been sleeping in her crib, place her in my arms, and said her name, “Victoria…Vicki”. The interpreter informed me that I would be alone until they came back to get me. There would be no one to stay and help. They walked away.

I peered over the mask that covered my mouth and nose and looked at this precious one. Her eyes were swollen shut, bruised. She leaned her head back as far as she could to try to see the stranger holding her. Vicki put her arms straight out over my shoulders, for what I assumed was a hug. When I attempted to embrace her, she stiffened herself to keep me right where I was. There would be no hug. I showed Vicki the activities I had with me. I encouraged her to touch them, feel them. I described what they looked like. She showed little interest. She quickly became fussy, and fearing the staff’s response I looked around the room to find something to interest her. There was a t.v. and a few broken toys. I softly whispered her name, “Vicki”, began to sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, and danced slowly around the tiny gray room. As we two-stepped around the room, Vicki grew drowsy, although she refused to put her head on my shoulder. The room was hot. She was dressed in a long-sleeve sweatshirt and sweatpants. Her cheeks were pink with fever. Heat radiated from her bald head. We continued to dance ever so gently until I could get her to the window, hoping she might be able to see the children playing in the park below us. The more we danced, the sleepier she got until she drifted off in my arms. The instant I stopped dancing, she raised her head and tapped my shoulder with her little hand. Understanding my cue, I whispered her name, “Vicki”, and began to sing our song and two-step around this lonely isolation room, at the end of the cancer ward, above a park, on the way to heaven. ~ Jada

Thursday, March 11, 2010

No words...

None of us can really explain today to you...We are having a difficult time processing ourselves what we have seen and experienced. We began with a snowy day, but it melted by noon. We went back to the hospital today to spend time on the units and do activities with the children. We broke up into two smaller groups and did medical play and therapeutic play. Jill and Raelene toured the hospital and again have no words. We did end the day with a fabulous meal at a Medieval restaurant. Since we are speechless, we will just leave you with a few pictures...

Fogs, Frogs, and Blogs...

Foggy because we walked into the hospital in Oradea for the first time and were a bit starstruck, dazed, confused and overwhelmed by what we were seeing. You will hear more about what we saw and were able to experience in Thursday's blog. Frogs because a few of us had some Hungarian frogs legs at a very traditional Hungarian restaurant at a resort outside of Oradea. And now we're blogging to tell you about it! :)

Today was another strong day in the classroom. The topics with the professional staff were all related to death and dying, a topic about which the staff members were passionate. Jill and Jada started the day with “Children’s Understanding of Death.” Jill and Ashley did “Grieving Children.” Participants made a Jenga game that families could use to express their feelings about a love one who died. Kristie was next with the topic of working with the dying child. Audra and Jada finished the day with a presentation on legacy building. Everyone loved the presentations!

Laura got to spend time with Raelene talking about volunteer resources and databases. Raelene is so excited about Volgistics! She can’t wait to purchase a copy and start building their database of volunteers. And speaking of volunteers, Jan may have found some for her. She spoke to a class of students who want to be teachers. Many eagerly volunteered to help students keep up with their schoolwork. Way to go Jan for inspiring the students and for beginning to fill up Raelene’s database J

The time with the social work students continued to be productive. They were able to do some role-playing as we talked about preparation. They did an amazing job. There may be some future child life specialists in the group! It was so funny though as they talked about “Mr. Ron” (Ron Rose—the star of the EEG prep book) to each other like they knew him. They also shared a bit about their childhood hospital experiences with one telling a story about a surgery on her chest for which they cut off all of her hair. She was laughing about it but remembers being teased and quite traumatized by the experience. It was great to see them continue to open up to the topic and to begin to connect it to their own lives.

The afternoon found us at the children’s hospital (at last…our comfort zone). We were greeted by one of the physicians from the training who was proud to show us around. We received some mixed messages about how involved parents are but were proud to hear him joking using the language of preparation and parent involvement…it shows he’s at least getting it! We visited the pediatric oncology area. This was brightly colored with painted images on the wall, including a depiction of the last page of Eric Carle’s “Very Hungry Caterpillar.” The experience was both saddening and exciting for us. There were children who we know could be healthier—emotionally and physically—if more resources were available, but we were also reminded that kids are kids are kids as they smiled shyly at us, played with toys, played coo-coo (may not be spelled right but is like peek-a-boo). We get to interact more tomorrow…yeah! One of the hardest pieces of information for us was hearing about their staffing. They often have 1 nurse caring for greater than 20 children so children without families are terribly alone. Our bit of adventure at the hospital involved Jill and a wandering gypsy who would have loved to claim Jill’s billfold for her own, but to no avail. We all left with everything we brought in, minus maybe small pieces of our hearts.

We finished the day with another amazing meal! The highpoints included Laura’s frog legs from Hungarian frogs—and Brenda tasting these frog legs—Jada eating the cream from the pitcher with her tiny espresso spoon, and desserts so rich that it was decadent. We wrapped up our reflection time each feeling closer to the country and to our fellow group members than we had that morning.

Just one more day of teaching ahead of us…Thursday here we come!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Perseverance vs. Defeat...Joy vs. Sadness...

A great second day! Everyone seems more comfortable with being here, especially today as several of us went in different directions throughout the day. Breakfast was as good as it has been everyday, the homemade bread is spoiling us! The presentations for staff started with Calming Traumatized Patients, and then moved into Creative Arts Therapies. For the second presentation, we worked in time to have them actually participate in some of the therapeutic activities, and they really got into it. They collaged mandalas, planted rye grass, painted to music, and read “The Kissing Hand.” The rest of the presentations were Family-Centered Care (a TOTALLY new concept for them!), and Sibling Issues. We decided to do something different during the last 45 minutes, and had everyone come in for a Q & A session, to provide more specific information on the field of Child Life.

There seems to be a belief that these are very important concepts, and something they would love to have, but don’t see how it would ever be possible with their limited resources. The Palliative Care program seems to be in a much more reasonable position to actually move forward with the inception of a Child Life program, so there is hope!

Kat spent her morning teaching the social work students, where she finally feels like she made a breakthrough in regards to their “getting it”. She showed a video of a child life specialist working with a patient, and there was a new sense of understanding and excitement about the information she was providing.

While the presenters were busy during the morning, several of the group walked down the road to visit a couple of stores, and take in some of the local culture, including illegal taxi cab drivers on the side of the road!

Jan made a presentation at the elementary school for the teachers who are interested in helping start a school program for chronically ill children who are not able to attend a regular school program.

This afternoon we split into three groups and went with the Palliative Care staff on some of their home visits. These visits finally gave us some insight into the work of these staff, as well as the lives of the children and families they provide services to. The stories from each group would be better shared by each of them, so hopefully they’ll get a chance to do that over the next day or two. The children were all very different and we left amazed at their perseverance, hope, joy and love! What a treasured experience!

Before dinner, we watched an A & E Biography show on the dictator, Nicolai Ceachousku. WOW! Had forgotten a lot of that Romanian history, and hearing how his regime is still impacting life here was very powerful. To know that it has been only 20 years since he was deposed, and how many things are still not changing, really shows how much work needs to be done for Romania to catch up with much of the western world. Tomorrow we look forward to getting to visit the hospital in the afternoon. We are going to get a tour by the hospital’s director, and are excited about finally getting to learn about it.

And, then there was fry bread, really GOOD fry bread, with dinner, so the day ended on a high note!
We will post pictures that we are able to later today (Wednesday) of some of our home visits. :)