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Hospital comforts children with motorized car they can drive into surgery

HUNTSVILLE Ala. -- A hospital can be a scary place for anyone, which is why a team of Alabama specialists are doing everything they can to make the experience not only bearable, but even fun.

The child life specialists' sole job is to help Huntsville Hospital's youngest patients beyond their medical needs.

The hospital waiting room is more like a game room, with interactive activities projected onto the floor for kids to play with while they wait in the emergency room.

"So this is kind of one of those things that keeps their mind off everything before they have to go back," said Haley Franks, a pediatric ER registered nurse. "Especially if they have any kind of procedures or anything they are able to kind of play out here in the lobby and have some fun while they're waiting."

The child life department has been in Huntsville Hospital for over 20 years. Specialists are trained in child psychology and development to know how to meet the needs of every child.

"There are some kids that are excited to be here. There are some kids that are really, really scared and don't even want to come in the door, stand on the scale, put on a bracelet," said Michelle Barksdale, a child life specialist. "We have all developmental ages and ranges of emotions."

Barksdale said the needs of kids are very different than adults. She said a lot of kids are concrete thinkers – they need to see what the surgery room will look like, not just be told.

The pictures, toys, and games are just the start. The real fun is the ride into surgery in a motorized toy car, complete with their own driver's license.

"That car is a transition piece from parents who they know, where they're safe, to people who they don't know in scrubs," said Barksdale.

The staff says they choose to be in pediatrics because they love kids. They work hard every day to make kids feel better inside and out.

"It makes it easier on that transition for the parent as well as the child. Because they know the child is not scared, they're not crying, they're not leaving them in a fearful state," said Amanda Rochowiak, a pre-op coordinator.

The staff at the Huntsville children's hospital said they are always looking to set their facility apart from the rest of the hospital and hope the community learns about what they can offer to kids and their families.

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