Caring for an ill child can take a toll on the entire family, including healthy siblings. The Lemieux Sibling Center can help ease that burden.
Daniel Jaramillo, 5, of Oakton, Va., received a new liver at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC in February 2010. His sister Alejandra, 6, doesn't like to leave Danny's side when he's at the hospital. But their mother says it's difficult to balance Danny's and Alex's needs when he's having procedures or tests.
So in March, Pilar Jaramillo turned to Children's Hospital's Lemieux Sibling Center.
"It was hard for me to leave Alex with people I didn't know," Mrs. Jaramillo says. "But I'm so glad I did. They make sure Alex is safe and engaged in productive activity. They've even helped her with homework. That takes a lot of stress off of me."
Danny was born with a disease that affected his kidneys and liver, and he has been visiting Children's for more than a year. He is in kidney failure and depends on regular dialysis to keep him alive as he waits for a kidney transplant. Alex visits the Sibling Center every Monday morning and during school breaks so her parents can focus on Danny.
A Hand to Hold
"Children with a severe chronic illness or disability often require a lot of family resources," says Sarah Miedel, Child Life coordinator at the Lemieux Sibling Center. "Their siblings can feel isolated, guilty, angry, lonely, embarrassed, or confused. We try to help siblings verbalize their feelings in a healthy way through art and play."
The Lemieux Sibling Center is part of Austin's Playroom Project, supported by a $1.6 million gift to Children's from the Mario Lemieux Foundation. The Sibling Center offers a cheerful, safe, and comfortable environment for siblings of children who are at Children's for care.
Siblings can do a multitude of activities, including:
- creating art
- playing at the sand and water table
- studying fish in the aquarium
- putting on a puppet show
- reading books
- playing air hockey or video games
"We want to ensure that the siblings' development and growth continues in a positive way during a difficult family time," Ms. Miedel says.
An Ear to Bend
Child Life staff also introduce children ages 3 to 11 to medical equipment and procedures and answer questions about their siblings' hospital experience."We take the lead from the kids," Ms. Miedel says. "We want them to feel safe, welcome, and part of the hospital process."
Resources that can help siblings comprehend the hospital experience include:
- pictures showing medical equipment or procedures
- dolls that siblings can decorate and "treat" for medical conditions
- a desktop hospital that features a doll, CT scanner, hospital bed, and IV pole
- a reference library of books that explain medical conditions and illnesses
"The services we provide are therapeutic and educational," Ms. Miedel stresses. "This is not day care. It is a psychological respite."
A Shoulder to Lean on
The Child Life staff at the Sibling Center also can teach parents how to support siblings at home.
"Some parents don't know how to explain to siblings what is happening with their sick brother or sister," Ms. Miedel says. "We want other members of the family to feel they can gather knowledge and talk with professionals here."
Mrs. Jaramillo agrees. "They are loving, trustworthy, and genuinely concerned about every child every family that walks through the door. They are like our extended family," she says.
The Lemieux Sibling Center, in the main lobby of Children's Hospital, is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to noon, and from 1 to 5 p.m. Reservations/appointments are recommended. Siblings can visit for two hours a day. For more information or to make an appointment, please call 412-692-5343. Visit us online at www.chp.edu/sibling.