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Sarah Beth Gray named Delta Air Lines Child Life Specialist of the Year

Sarah Beth Gray

Congratulations to Sarah Beth Gray, a Certified Child Life Specialist in the Radiology department at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt who has been named the first-ever recipient of the Delta Air Lines Child Life Specialist of the Year award. The award recognizes Sarah Beth’s outstanding service and commitment to pediatric patients.

Hospitals can be a scary place, especially for children. But thanks to Sarah Beth Gray,  patients  of all ages are fearlessly tackling difficult procedures and discovering that they are braver than they knew.

Sarah Beth is a Certified Child Life Specialist in the Radiology department at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. For 13 years, she has empowered children and families as they navigate complicated and emotional journeys with illness and disability.

In 2012, the radiology department leadership asked Sarah Beth for help improving the experience of children receiving MRI scans. The goal was to increase the number of children able to complete the scans without sedation.

Sarah Beth led the multidisciplinary team in creating the Patient Awake While Scanned (PAWS) MRI program. The program includes an assessment phone call with the child’s caregiver and  customized support on the day of the MRI. The program has supported 750 patients in completing their MRI without anesthesia and has a 95 % success rate.

Using the PAWS program, Sarah Beth and her team have made a dramatic difference in the lives of young patients like Natalie.

Like most first graders, Natalie is happy, active, and fidgety. But unlike most of her fellow six year olds, Natalie has Klippel-Feil syndrome—a rare disorder that restricts the mobility of Natalie’s upper spine.

To monitor and treat the disorder, Natalie needed to undergo an MRI scan, which meant she would need to lie completely still for 90 minutes in a tube surrounded by a giant circular magnet that loudly clangs, taps, and thumps. Usually a child like Natalie would need to be sedated for the scan, but thanks to Sarah Beth, Natalie was able to complete the procedure sedation-free.

On the morning of her MRI scan, Natalie and her mother arrived at the hospital and met with a smiling Sarah Beth. She began by explaining to Natalie what she could expect during her procedure.

“You’re going to lie on a bed, watch a movie, and have some pictures taken,” Sarah Beth said. She showed Natalie photos of the MRI scanner and let Natalie listen to MRI noises.

Next, Sarah Beth handed Natalie a pair of movie goggles and headphones that are equipped with a button that can be pushed to talk to the technician operating the MRI. Natalie chose which movie she wanted to watch during the scan.

“You need to be very still,” Sarah Beth said. “You can’t scratch your head or kick your feet or cross and uncross your legs. If you move around your pictures will be blurry, but I think you’re going to do a real good job.”

Using a narrow blue nylon tube Natalie practiced being very still. She climbed in wearing her movie goggles and earphones and kept her hands tightly by her side. Then, Natalie headed off to the exam room. She left the hospital that day clutching a certificate of bravery after a successful scan, an outcome that would have likely been much different without Sarah Beth’s preparation and encouragement.

Besides the confidence that mastering an MRI without sedation gives to patients, other benefits include the ability to eat before the procedure (food and liquids are restricted before general anesthesia), less time in the hospital, and lower costs. As part of the PAWS program, if the patient attempts the procedure without sedation and fails, there is no charge. The family simply schedules another time to have the procedure done with anesthesia.

The PAWS program is just one of the many ways Sarah Beth works every day to improve the care each child receives. Along with providing excellent patient care, Sarah Beth is a talented educator, helping child life students  learn and improve their clinical skills. She has been selected for  two podium presentations at the annual Association for Child Life Professionals (ACLP) International Conference and will provide yet another podium presentation at the 2019 conference in Chicago.

With genuine caring for patients, natural talent, creativity, and hard work, Sarah Beth is changing the lives of children every day, one patient at a time.

Sarah Beth is from Clinton, Mississippi, and is an avid Ole Miss and New Orleans Saints fan. She enjoys watching reality television and listening to country music. When she isn’t at the hospital, Sarah Beth loves to spend time with her husband Joseph, daughters Caroline and Lilly, and dog, Saint.

March is Child Life Month! Child Life Month recognizes the work that Child Life Specialists do to help normalize the hospital experience and bring joy and comfort to hospitalized kids and their families. Throughout the month of March, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals will be highlighting Child Life Specialists from around our hospital network. Many of the funds raised by CMN Hospitals are used to fund Child Life programs and help make up the gap between what government and insurance pay for and the actual cost of caring for kids in our member hospitals.