Making the Children Happy
Edinburg Children’s Hospital’s newest Child Life Specialist talks about the Valley’s littlest patients and the universal language of play
By Joe Louis Gomez
A typical day comprised of arts and crafts, puzzles and even video games underscore the importance of reducing anxiety, and allowing children to express their feelings through play, according to Swerdlin, who is Edinburg Children’s Hospital’s newest Child Life Specialist.
Dedicated to the emotional well being of patients and families, the job means assuring children are prepared psychologically and developmentally through the hospital process. That includes tailoring her unique services in order to reduce stress as patients undergo treatment, she says.
“You know, play is universal. Everybody knows how to play. Whether you’re two years old or 99 years old. Everyone knows how to play. Some of us forget. Maybe we get a little rusty. But that’s my job. It’s to play,” Swerdlin said. “More importantly my job is to look at the development level of the patient, the level of the parent, the anxiety level of both and come up with a game plan to help reduce all of that.”
The job can mean utilizing a variety of planned activities and games, or at its more serious side can mean comforting a patient before a surgery, or simplifying the process of an x-ray.
The job at its most basic level, Swerdlin says, is in essence normalizing a hospital in order to make children feel more comfortable. Providing those opportunities to make it a better place, she says.
“I’ll be there when they’re getting an IV started or an x-ray, whatever it is,” she said. “But I’ll also prepare them by providing them with that educational piece on, what happens when those things happen so that isn’t so scary because they already know what happens.”
Expressing a natural affinity for childcare and development, Swerdlin says has always known she has wanted to work with kids. In her formative years it began in earnest, first getting certified in CPR as a child in order to make extra money babysitting in her hometown of Chester, New Jersey.
Her work with children then evolved into caring for those with special needs, which she did consistently through high school.
“I have always known I wanted to work with kids,” she said. “I don’t know if it has been scientifically proven. But in my experience, kids get better faster. They feel better. Their spirits are lifted, and so in turn they just get better.”
A native of New Jersey, Swerdlin is a graduate of Utica College of Syracuse University, where she attained a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Psychology-Child Life. Completing a Child Life practicum of over 100 hours in a hospital setting, as well as a Child Life Internship of over 480 hours in a hospital setting, she began her job at Edinburg Children’s Hospital in August.
The first of its kind in South Texas, Edinburg Children’s Hospital is a 86-bed pediatric facility with a dedicated emergency department, and two operating suites dedicated to pediatric surgery. Universal Health Services and South Texas Health System invested $25 million in the first and only children’s hospital located south of Corpus Christi, Texas.
“I do see that there is the potential for this program here to grow, and make a mark not just in Edinburg or McAllen but in South Texas and even all of Texas,” Swerdlin says. “Texas happens to have the most child life specialists in the country. So, why shouldn’t we have lots here in the Valley. My goal is to have the best program in the Valley and grow it and bring volunteers.”