LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It’s a different way of caring for sick children that doesn’t involve needles, blood or any of the other stomach-turning things that might keep some from entering the health care industry. Norton Children’s Hospital says child life specialists play a special role in helping children deal with being in the hospital or at repeat appointments.

What You Need To Know

  •  25-year-old Dana Longstreet is a child life intern with Norton Children's

  •  The child life program normalizes hospital experiences for children through play and arts and crafts

  • Longstreet fought cancer twice when she was a little girl and says child life specialists helped her a lot during that difficult time 

  • Now, Longstreet is giving back, helping children going through medical battles like she did

Twenty-five-year-old Dana Longstreet is a child life intern who’s spent 600 hours rotating between Norton Children’s Hospital, Norton Women’s and Children’s Hospital and the Novak Center for Children’s Health.

The child life program incorporates play and arts and crafts into emergency room visits, hospital stays and medical appointments that can be tough for kids dealing with serious medical conditions.

“It just really helps normalize the environment and just make it more kid-friendly,” Longstreet said.

Longstreet works to quickly assess patients based on their ages and needs when she walks in their rooms, then determines which activities and conversations might be the most therapeutic.

There are activities for younger and older children—from playing with building blocks to playing video games.

It’s work that’s near and dear to Longstreet, considering she once got help from child life specialists herself.

 “I remember coloring and painting,” Longstreet said. “I have so many positive memories with child life, and they just helped my experience in such a positive way, and I just wanted to give back.”

Longstreet battled cancer as a child at age two, then again at age six when it relapsed. She spent so much time in Norton Children’s Hospital’s Cancer Institute that her long-time hospital is named after her. She attributes a lot of her positive experience being hospitalized to the child life specialists who helped her during that time.

Heather Stohr, who is Longstreets boss, now, was one of the child life specialists who helped her back then.

 “I remember her as a very young child and supporting her family,” Stohr said. “I remember her dad, in particular, and talking with him about how he can support his young daughter that’s going to be going through this, and, wow. Look where she is now, and it’s so exciting to have her want to go into a field that touched her years ago.”

Just as Stohr did for Longstreet’s own family, the intern now works to help parents of young children understand and get through the difficulties of treatments.

“I just love to have even a small impact on a child’s journey in health care and hopefully just sprinkle some positivity in there,” Longstreet smiled.

Leaders at Norton Children’s say young patients are more compliant and go through treatment better when they have fun, creative outlets can talk with workers like Longstreet about what’s going on.

“Their positive outlook can just change their whole experience,” Longstreet explained, adding that the program helps meet psychosocial needs for kids in tough situations.

Currently, Norton Children’s has a group of about 25 child life specialists spread out across its three facilities that treat kids.

Longstreet says child life therapy is a field growing in popularity for people like her, who don’t want to be nurses or doctors, but still want to work in health care.

Longstreet is finishing up her required 600 hours in Norton Children’s Internship program, then will sit for her certification exam, soon. She’ll then work on an as-needed basis within Norton Children’s.