Child Life program making difference one patient at a time

Talia Mor, Child Life specialist, speaks to DM at UF students during the 2023 main event at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

Talia Mor looked out at the crowd with a huge smile on her face. She was speaking to students from Dance Marathon at the University of Florida. It was as though she was looking at younger versions of herself. After all, Mor was in their shoes not so long ago.

Today, Mor is a certified Child Life specialist at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital. But, at one time, she was involved in Knight-Thon, the University of Central Florida’s Dance Marathon.

Dance Marathon holds a special place in my heart,” Mor said. “I was involved all four years [of college].”

Thanks to Knight-Thon, Mor found her calling in life. She was on a hospital tour to see how fundraising makes a difference. During the tour, a Child Life specialist spoke to the group. The specialist had a teaching doll in her arms. She showed Mor and others how pediatric patients learn about procedures through play.

“I had this a-ha moment,” said Mor, who was pursuing a degree in communications. “This was what I needed to be doing. This was my calling.”

DM at UF and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals’ funding supports the Child Life program at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital. Mor and other Child Life specialists help children and families cope with the stress and anxiety of hospitalization. Through diagnosis education, procedural preparation, therapeutic intervention and other techniques, pediatric patients can feel empowered during treatment and after hospital discharge.

“That’s a big part of our job, empowering patients and families to know they can do it,” Mor said. “We often see when we focus on their emotional well-being, they get out of the hospital sooner. They heal faster.”

A young Elie Chapman holds a rainbow painting she created while working with Child Life. Elie wears a purple shirt and her painting has green grass, a blue sky, white clouds and a colorful rainbow.
While at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, a young Elie Chapman worked with Child Life specialists. Brought to the UF Health Pediatric Emergency Room multiple times due to severe abdominal pain. Elie was diagnosed with glycogen storage disease (GSD), a rare condition caused by an enzyme deficiency where the body is unable to convert glycogen into glucose for energy. Today, Elie lives an active life fueled by daily protein supplements.

Many of our ambassadors have worked with Child Life specialists. The program leaves a lasting impression.

“The stuff that they are doing in Child Life is really incredible,” said Nate Ferrell, 15, who has been treated at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital throughout his life. “They make the hospital a less scary place.”

It’s not just our pediatric patients. Their parents also rave about Child Life. Now 16 years old, Elie Chapman was admitted to UF Health four years ago.

“Elie got to participate in Child Life services,” said Lisa Chapman, Elie’s mother. “I remember Elie painting a rainbow – and it was very dark days – and we soon got past the harder days, and it got better.

“What that means to us is that it gave us hope.”

Child Life positions are funded through philanthropic support. Plus, the program relies on funding for additional resources, such as teaching dolls, educational books and medical play kits. Even end-of-chemotherapy parties for patients with cancer are funded by CMN Hospitals.

“CMN’s charitable support makes Child Life possible for our hospital. Donations include developmentally appropriate toys and activities for various age groups,” Mor said. “When we can bring play, fun, and normalization into the hospital environment, children cope better. We are speaking their language!”

For years, Mor has worked with children. From summer camps to Child Life at UF Health, her passion is present every day.

“It’s one of the most rewarding jobs,” Mor said. “Working with kids has always been a privilege.”