PFCC Star of the month: Judy Edes

Six-year-old Freddie has cystic fibrosis, and during his recent stay at the Children’s, Child Life Specialist Judy Edes helped him build a two-foot-high, multifunctional “Super Hero Hospital” out of cardboard, complete with figurines and a special section for pets. Freddie’s mom Kim, who nominated Judy for this month’s PFCC Award, says it was just what he needed. “Judy knew that Freddie had been cooped up in his room and that getting out and having some fun would be good for him,” says Kim. “So she brought him to the playroom where the two of them built the hospital.”

Kim has known Judy for several years. “Freddie has been admitted to the Children’s a couple of times for infections or complications, and what Judy does for him is always incredible,” says Kim. “She’s overflowing with kindness and cares so much. I see it with other families too, that she always has a smile, and always tries to do whatever she can to make their stay feel like home.”

For Judy, the idea of patient and family-centered care is an essential part of her work. “I don’t see being able to work with a child without connecting with their parents as well,” she says. “I think it’s a big part of what we do, and not just between staff and families, but amongst the staff too in the way we communicate and collaborate with each other.”

Early on, Judy knew she wanted to work with children, and after studying therapeutic recreation as an undergrad, followed by a Masters in Educational Psychology, she started working part-time at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) as a Child Life specialist. “I actually interned at CHEO, so I knew I’d found my calling even before graduating,” she says. While at CHEO, she also worked part-time at the Children’s, in the hospital’s Emergency room. “The Children’s eventually offered me a full-time position, so I didn’t hesitate a minute. My work is a big part of who I am and I feel privileged to work with such incredible families and colleagues here.”

Judy has always been guided by two key factors in her work. “I always try to follow the child’s lead, and I look to the parents as experts about their child,” she says. “It’s important to first make a connection with the parents to introduce our Child Life services, and learn about their experience, what they’re thinking and feeling, and how they feel their child is coping.” She also finds out what their child’s strengths and interests are. “It’s really about establishing trust so we can better accompany both the child and the parents in their time at the hospital. If they’re both well supported, then we know we’ll make some sort of difference in their healthcare experience, and hopefully it’s a bit more positive.”

The many benefits of play

Judy also points out that play is one way that children experience the world. Play promotes learning, growth and development, relaxation, fun and socialization. In the hospital setting, play fosters opportunities for self-expression, control, exploration and healing. “Play allows us to connect easily with kids, and when parents see their child responding through play, they seem to find hope and comfort that their child might be doing a little bit better.”

For the past few years, Judy has worked on the medical inpatient floor at the Children’s. “Our focus is always on how the child is coping and adapting to their healthcare experience,” she says. “While play, education and support are key elements in our work, our programs and collaboration with other services allow us to support the child globally.” She further explains that when children like Freddie are at the hospital for a couple of weeks, they’re missing out on school, so the Child Life specialists are in touch with the hospital teachers, and whenever possible, try to bring them to activities like pet therapy, or special events in the hospital to try and normalize their stay.

Kim feels that all of this goes a long way to making a child feel better. “With Judy’s support, Freddie’s time here seemed to go by much faster,” she says. “On his last day, he was having his PICC line taken out and Judy asked him if he wanted her to be there. He said yes right away. I think from his perspective, she’s a super hero!”