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I Was There Too: Judy Dahl

I Was There Too is (usually) a series of conversations I am having with photographers and medical moms who are telling stories of life for families with medical complexities. This week, in honour of Heart Day and CHD awareness week I chatted with the Child Life Specialist who supported Kane and our family during his heart surgery.

Meet Judy Dahl.

A Child Life Specialist supports a child in the cardiac intensive care unit.
Judy checking in on Kane in the PCICU. She brought him a toilet that shoots water. Nailed it.

If you have ever spent any time in the cardiac units at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton you have probably come across Judy. She has been a Child Life Specialist there for the past 34 years and I can’t even tell you what an impact she has had on kids and their families over her career.

If you follow my family’s healthcare journey you may remember Judy from my post Child Life…a Gratitude Letter. In that post I talked about all the ways Judy supported Kane, Maverick and us old folks both leading up to and following Kane’s hospital admission. I cannot say enough amazing things about Child Life, in general, and Judy, specifically.

A Child Life Specialist supports a child in prior to a hospital admission.
Judy and Kane preparing a patient for an IV.

Early in our conversation Judy talks about the primary focus of Child Life as a way of minimizing stress, enhancing self-esteem and providing normalization for kids and their families. I couldn’t agree more. It was also interesting to hear Judy talk about the memories families have shared with her years later. And I particularly appreciated when she talked about photography being a part of memory creation and the idea of sibling boxes.

In this conversation…

0:33 What is Child Life 
1:32 Memory creation
2:52 How our family used Child Life
4:15 Taking photographs in hospital as a therapeutic component
7:15 Kids with cameras offer a different perspective
8:30 How to approach medical staff about taking photos
11:00 Visual stories and medical play for social stories
14:15 Family Centred Care during covid & sibling boxes
20:00 How to become a Child Life Specialist

Watch our conversation to learn more about Judy, her role as a Child Life Specialist and just why so many cardiac families have such a strong connection to her.

Judy is a passionate advocate for Patient and Family Centred Care.
Here in Alberta we are lucky to have two pediatric hospitals that believe in this idea, but it’s our job to keep advocating for this kind of care.

The Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation is raising funds to expand The Beach.
Visiting The Beach is a highlight for inpatients. The Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation is working to expand this space

Find a Child Life Specialist

I highly recommend connecting with Child Life to support your kid, their siblings, as well as yourself during any kind of medical procedure. Start by asking to speak to the social worker for your unit or department. If there is no social worker, I would put the question out to the other medical staff we are regularly in contact with. I have also found it useful to be in Facebook groups for parents of children at our hospital. It’s been a great space to ask questions like that.

Happy Heart Day

Love the Wolfe Pack

Heart Day Card designed by Matriarch Design YEG
with images by Kristy Wolfe and Erika Mann
From our bubble to yours. Happy Heart Day! Card designed by Matriarch Design YEG

Published by Kristy Wolfe Stories

Kristy is an engaging, open, and honest Common Language DST trained digital storytelling facilitator. She has been speaking and teaching workshops on both photography & digital storytelling for 5 years. With a background in the education, healthcare, and non-profit sectors, she works with diverse audiences, prioritizing ethics in storytelling and storyteller wellbeing.

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