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Geisinger celebrates 40th anniversary of its Child Life Department

March is Child Life Month, a month to celebrate the child life specialists at Geisinger Janet Weis Children’s Hospital. This marks the 40th anniversary of the Child Life department at Geisinger. The program began in 1981 when pediatric physicians, nurses and other team members of the the need for diversional play activities and a staffed playroom for hospitalized children.  The primary focus was to provide play to children who were admitted for the treatment of oncological diseases.  This Child Life Specialist blazed the trail in many ways; establishing a role on the medical team, educating children, parents and staff about Child Life in general, and reported to the Pediatric Administrator. Today, 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 Children’s Miracle Network at Geisinger are used to fund the Child Life program.

Today we feature Child Life Specialist Nancy Ramhap in a short Q&A.

Hometown: Lafayette, Indiana

College: Purdue University

Family: “I have a large family, mostly in the Midwest.  During COVID, I have been playing games to spend time with my Mom and aunt and having a painting class with my great niece and nephews too.  I have amazing friends who have become my PA family and who take such great care of me.  I am not married and do not have children.  I tease parents often, that I don’t have children, so I borrow everyone else’s children and then I go home and sleep at night.”

Favorite food: “Sushi and nachos, separately.”

Favorite superhero: “Any child, they are all my superheroes!”

Favorite book: The Chronicles of Narnia

Favorite movie: The Holiday

Favorite game: The Masked Singer

Favorite TV show: Friends, and currently Heartland.

When you aren’t working, how do you like to spend your time?
“I love to paint, game nights, and any time with family and friends.”

Special talent or stupid human trick you may possess?
“Not sure I have one.  I try to make others feel at ease.”

What is the last text you sent? (completely out of context, if you can share)
“Hahaha!” Literally the last text, in response to a picture of Snow-White guzzling coffee straight out of a coffee machine.  Apparently, my friend was appreciative of her coffee this morning!”

What made you want to be involved with the Child Life Department?
“I came to Geisinger shortly after I graduated college.  This field can often require a move to a different part of the country, an opportunity to gain some experience.  Initially in college I struggled with exactly what I was meant to do, but once I learned about Child Life, it felt a perfect match.  Once here, I found that this quiet little town with an ever-growing healthcare system kept my interests, fostered my growth in the field and provided me a happy life.”

What is your favorite part of what you do?
“Children and the power of play!  It is still amazing to me after all these years, how quickly a child can offer me a little trust, even when they are experiencing one of the scariest experiences of their life.  It’s so touching when I enter into a patient’s room and offer toys or Play-doh and see a smile form on the child’s face.   I am always aware that the “magic” in that moment is the offer of play in this environment, an unexpected surprise for most children.  It is also the understanding that changing a child’s environment to one that appears safe and familiar is key to helping them to conquer the many more hurdles likely to come with a hospital stay.”

What is a unique story or something that was very touching for you personally while performing your job?
“Oh wow, there have been a ton of those opportunities.  This job has certainly offered me opportunities to step out of my comfort zone.  Being able to support a family at the time of their child’s death has always been such a grace in my life.  I’ve had mothers who have offered me time with their child even in their final moments.  Such a special gift.  Two “little men” come to mind as well.  One who had to stay in traction for several weeks.  He sat by his door and watched for me.  When he saw me, he would holler down the hallway, ‘Nancy, are you gonna come play?’  Such a great invitation!  The other has had to stay in the hospital many times over his life.  Even at 2-3 years of age, he knew the coping tools he needed to make his stay work.  He too would holler down the hallway at me saying, ‘I need my dinos… and Play-doh!'”

How have CMN funds helped in allowing you to perform your job?
“That is a big answer, endless ways.  Our department is heavily supported by CMN funds every year.  Many of our positions started with CMN support initially.   The items in the playrooms, special teaching dolls, doctor’s kit, wagons with IV poll attachments, Play-doh, you name it… for years most of our program was supported through CMN funds and the donations of a very supportive community!  Our team has been passionate about helping raise funds for CMN in turn.  We learned recently that we have helped raised over $224,000 with our department’s CMN fundraisers.”