Originally posted at ChildLife.org by Yvonne Kassimatis | Nov. 3, 2020 

Lisa McWhorter, MS, CCLS, CPMT Lisa McWhorter, MS, CCLS, CPMT

Lisa is a Certified Child Life Specialist, military spouse, and mom of three wild and crazy boys. After receiving her master’s degree in Child Life and Family-Centered Care at Wheelock College, Lisa’s passion for serving children and families in need on a global level led her to travel to Cape Town, South Africa, where she began her child life career. Lisa volunteered as a CCLS to aid in the introduction of child life services at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

Since returning to the states, Lisa has worked as a CCLS in several settings as she and her family have moved up and down the east coast on military orders. Her experience includes working as a CCLS in pediatric pulmonary and physical rehabilitation, working with children of adult patients receiving hospice care, and as a PRN CCLS covering all inpatient and outpatient settings within a children’s hospital as well as volunteering with Make A Wish and Ronald McDonald House.

Lisa and her family received orders to live in Japan, where she volunteered with the American Red Cross and Operation Smile and provided distance support to Child Life United. Knowing that she had to find a new child life job every time her family moved (every 2-3 years) because of their military lifestyle (her husband is active duty Navy), and noticing disparities in healthcare services for military families (both personally and professionally when doing research), Lisa committed herself to connecting military children and families with psychosocial support and child life resources and to increasing awareness of child life within the military community.

This led her to establish the 4MilKids program at Standish Foundation for Children, which focuses on transforming the healthcare experience for military children through play, education, and family support. As the Program Manager, Lisa creates and implements programming such as donations of PPE, teaching dolls, toys, and games and activities for child life programs at military treatment facilities (MTFs). “Being a military family and child life specialist, the 4 MilKids program is near and dear to my heart and while it has been tricky to navigate the MTF, I am really excited to see what comes in the future.” The program is currently operational in five locations: a Fisher House (similar to a Ronald McDonald House for military families) in Connecticut and Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington D.C., Naval Medical Center Portsmouth in Virginia, and Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas.

Lisa is also a founding member of the Military Child Life Collective networking group that supports military-connected child life specialists and students and is the co-creator of the “Small Boots, Strong Roots” blog aimed at connecting military families with psychosocial support and child life resources. Ultimately, creating a broader child life presence within military treatment facilities (MTF) will not only provide support to military children and families but also help other military-connected CCLSs find work and allow military-connected child life students to complete volunteer hours and internships.

You may contact Lisa at lisa@SF4C.org to learn more about child life services for military families.

  Wendy Hickman-Miller, MA, CCLS

In 2018 Andy Standish reached out across the Pacific Ocean and declared her commitment to provide child life services to military families in Hawaii, in addition to those in Texas where her foundation is located. As the sole provider of child life services for the entire Pacific Command Region, Wendy Hickman-Miller, MA, CCLS, recognized that few military treatment facilities (MTFs) provide child life services. They collaborated to identify existing support services in military communities and the stakeholders that could best facilitate Andy’s goals. Wendy was elated to have the support of a fellow child life specialist. As a military spouse and mother of two, transitioning every 1-5 years, she recognized the overwhelming need for services outside the hospital setting to support coping with deployments, family systems instability, remote duty stations, and loss of life.

Following a few phone conversations, an exchange of emails, and a bit of networking, they began to make Andy’s vision a reality. The SF4C 4MilKids program emerged as a collaboration between Lisa McWhorter, MS, CCLS, CPMT, and Shani Thornton, MS, CCLS, RWWP, at the Standish Foundation for Children. With the support of the SF4C 4MilKids program, Wendy is able to provide training to clinic/ER staff, provisions of distraction materials, and Teddy Bear Clinics in the communities, “A service of immense value that should be emulated in MTFs throughout the country.”

In 2019, The Joint Commission visited Tripler Army Medical Center. The surveyor assigned to the department of pediatrics cited child life services as “a service of immense value that should  be emulated in MTFs throughout the country.”  With the support of command teams, the possibility of creating positions in MTFs can become a reality.

Meeting the unique needs of military families in a remote setting with limited resources has been the most challenging and most rewarding part of Wendy’s career. She is humbled and honored to serve exceptionally resourceful, resilient families alongside an amazing group of providers who understand the complexity of providing medical treatment while giving full consideration to psychosocial needs. She cannot recall a better example of the dedication and commitment of a team to provide world-class care.

As Wendy offered legacy-making and end-of-life services to an active duty air force family, they shared their desire for their daughter, Kie, to view fireworks one last time, as it was their favorite Friday evening activity. Wendy mentioned this to the attending physician, enlisted the team to donate left-over sparklers from New Year’s Eve celebrations, and asked volunteers to join her in producing a “fireworks display” in front of the hospital where Kie could view the fireworks. Within 6 hours, with the support of the commanding officer, the Pacific Region command, Honolulu Air Traffic Control, Honolulu Police and Fire Department, nursing, and physicians, a professional fireworks display was executed on post for Kie.

The Commander at Tripler Army Medical Center, and Director, Hawaii Military Health System, Mary V. Krueger, COL, MC, noted, in her change of command speech, “I’ve learned from this team how to question what is within the realm of the possible, committing to stay by your patients’ and family’s side through the most difficult times.” She went on to say, “When after consulting with top experts across the country it became evident that a cure was not possible, you turned your energy, your kindness, your compassion, and yes, your love, to supporting Kie’s family in celebrating her life.” She ended her speech with: “The greatest reward was Kie’s response, sitting in mom’s lap, the fireworks sparkling in her eyes and the single word, “Beautiful”! It turned out that your push to make the fireworks happen that night was well worth it. The next day Kie drifted from consciousness, having experienced the impact of this team showing love through action. I can think of no better example of a community coming together to SERVE a military family in a manner that exemplifies the meaning of our mission. I could not be more proud, humbled or grateful to have been on the team made up of individuals of this caliber.”