Child Life Supports the Patient Journey

Tawni Rochester

The bubbly 2-year-old was weary from treatment for B-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Certified child life specialist Tawni Rochester brought in clowns. “They were wild and silly and playing banjos,” Tawni says. The girl laughed, but the mom broke down in tears. “She thought she’d never hear the sound of her daughter laughing again.”

Child life specialists help families cope with illness, trauma and loss. Tawni has spent her entire career at Children’s National, starting as a clinical intern in our Emergency Department. Today, she is manager of the child life team.

When a patient arrived with a life-threatening injury after an ice-skating accident, Rochester stood next to him. She pressed her hands gently against both sides of his face and asked him to focus on her voice. It calmed him so the medical team could administer pain medication and prepare him for surgery. He later made a full recovery.

“My job is all about building strong therapeutic relationships,” she says. “Patients and families constantly thank us for what we do. They don’t realize we’re the lucky ones ― I’m grateful to be a trusted person along their journey.”

A young patient at Children's National Hospital.

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A young patient at Children's National Hospital.