A stay in a hospital as a child made a lifelong impact on Maria Radebaugh of Appleton.
When she was 8, Radebaugh had to have surgery on a hernia and was terrified of needles, she said.
“The surgery center I went to gave me a bravery certificate with my picture and placed me into the ‘Pediatric Hall of Fame,'” she recalled. “From that moment on I knew I wanted to work with kids in the hospital.”
Radebaugh, 22, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, took her dream and created a major, child life specialist, which is a pediatric health care professional who works with patients and their families to help them with the stress and unfamiliarity of the hospital environment.
For her degree, she has volunteered for more than a year at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin-Fox Valley in Neenah.
“Although volunteering at Children’s started out as a something that was necessary for me to get an internship, it has turned into a passion of mine,” she said. “It’s just been really wonderful to work with these kids and to be able to help them overcome their fears.”
Radebaugh interacts with and comforts patients and their families. She provides distractions during procedures such as a blood draw or intravenous line placement. She prepares rooms for patients and interacts with groups that come to volunteer at the Neenah facility.
She also took on outside projects such as creating a bravery certificate for patients.
“Kids really feel special when they get recognized for something they were afraid of,” she said.
Radebaugh also created coloring books and a parent’s pamphlet to help with the hospitalization experience. Her first book is about a child in the hospital and all the emotions and elements surrounding the experience. The patient also can add pictures to the story that convey how they are feeling, which helps the hospital staff.
Her second coloring book is about being a sibling of a sick child and those feelings and experiences.
“They don’t feel they are as loved,” said Radebaugh, whose sister was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. “They feel they are getting punished because they don’t get to spend as much time with mom and dad.”
Her pamphlet for parents focuses on the main stressors that can occur due to hospitalization. For instance, “a lot of parents don’t take those breaks themselves while the child is sick,” she said. “They need those breaks.”
Susan Karman, a certified child life specialist at Children’s, praised Radebaugh’s dedication.
“We are lucky to have her here because she relates easily with children, parents and staff members, and her passion for creating a safe and positive environment is evident in everything she does,” she said.
Radebaugh said volunteering is a wonderful way to take something she is passionate about and serve others.
“The joy you bring to them pours into you,” she said.