Get to Know the Holtz Children’s Hospital Child Life Team

By: Miranda Torres

In honor of Child Life Month, get to know our Holtz Children’s Hospital Child Life team. Our Child Life specialists bring comfort to our pediatric patients and their families by providing them with information, educational tools and toys, and specialized therapy based on their medical needs.

Beth Behr, supervisor of the Child Life and music therapy team at Holtz Children’s, has been a Child Life specialist at the hospital for 22 years. . When asked what makes her team so special, Behr emphasizes their strong connection to their patients and each other.

“We are constantly keeping communication going between our specialists, covering for each other, helping each other out,” she said. “Working with sick children can be an emotionally draining job, but we are here for one another, never going through it alone.”

Barbie Nunez,  has been a Child Life specialist for four years, and has spent the last six months working in Holtz Children’s emergency department. As part of her Child Life certification, Nunez volunteered at Holtz Children’s in 2013. “My ‘AHA’ moment during my time as a volunteer was when I was visiting a patient in the pediatric intensive care unit and he was not really engaging with me since he was a little shy,” Nunez said. “After spending 30 minutes playing with him, I told him it was time for me to leave. As I was picking up to go, he grabbed my hand and said ‘please don’t leave.’ That is when I knew I wanted to be a Child Life specialist at Holtz Children’s.”

Kelly Propst has been a Child Life specialist for 15 years, spending the last three at Holtz Children’s. She caters to the solid organ transplant and gastrointestinal unit and the pediatric special procedures unit. “I love how each day is different here with the diverse patient population and needs that come to us,” Propst said. . “I had one patient who always asked every staff member where I was. It didn’t matter the day of the week or time of day; he wanted to know where I was. He loved being read to, and I loved helping him reach developmental goals through play while he was hospitalized.”

Stacey McCarty has been a Child Life specialist for six years. She has spent the last six months working in Holtz Children’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).  “Child Life in the NICU looks a lot different than Child Life in other units of the hospital,” McCarty said. “I’ve had to adapt a lot of my Child Life skills to support our babies and their families. I love celebrating all milestones, like a first cuddle with mom or dad, first bottle feeding, and turning one month old. These may seem small, but for some of the NICU patients, these are huge steps and it’s so exciting to be part of them.”

Alyssa Conrad has been a Child Life specialist for nine years, and has spent the last seven years at Holtz Children’s. Conrad works on the pediatric hematology / oncology and bone marrow transplant inpatient units.Over the years, I have worked with countless chronically ill patients. One who stands out was a pre-teen female who I formed a very close and impactful bond with over her yearlong hospital stay,” Conrad said. “I was fortunate to meet her at the very beginning of her difficult treatment where I provided child-friendly explanations of her new cancer diagnosis, implemented education and distraction during numerous medical procedures, offered normalization activities, and became an important overall support system for her. Having the privilege to be let in and seen as a safe space during such a challenging time for all is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a Child Life specialist.”

Angie Nunez has worked as a Child Life specialist for seven years, and has spent the last year in Holtz Children’s  pediatric intensive care unit and cardiac intensive care unit. “One of my favorite memories at Holtz Children’s is when I worked with a family of a young school-aged brain injury patient,” Nunez said. “The younger brother was the one who found him. He felt scared and at fault for the situation and his family didn’t know how much to tell him about his brother. I created a social storybook using photos and age-appropriate language to help explain the situation to him. The brother was able to understand what the patient was going through, cope with being away from his family, and he learned to see himself as a superhero for saving his brother when he found him and called for help.”