Clinical Perspective: Lisa Vitlip, CCLS, MS

Every day — and especially this Child Life and Social Work Month — we are proud to work with incredible clinicians, both on our staff and in our community. The network of child life specialists and social workers around the country help get more kids in the game by introducing families to our program..

This month, we sat down with some of our most dedicated child life specialist and social workers from around the country to talk about their experience with Team IMPACT and why they trust their patients and families to Team IMPACT.

Lisa Vitlip is an inpatient child life specialist who works with the pediatric oncology patients at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Wilmington, DE. She has referred many of her patients to Team IMPACT and has seen the program’s benefits almost immediately.

My name is Lisa Vitlip, and I have been a Child Life Specialist for almost nine years. I began my career at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia on the Radiology/Sedation unit in September of 2014. While I enjoyed the fast-paced outpatient environment and supporting patients and families through a variety of tests and procedures, it was always my passion to work with the oncology population. In January of 2017, I transitioned into the role of an inpatient oncology Child Life Specialist. I love being able to meet patients and families at the beginning of their treatment and support them all the way through their inpatient hospital journey. I am always amazed by how incredibly strong and resilient these oncology warriors and their families are as they are faced with incredibly challenging situations.

Since I was young, I had a strong passion to work in the hospital setting and work with pediatric oncology patients. As I grew older, I began to realize that my interest did not lie in becoming a nurse, doctor, or technician — I really wanted to focus on emotionally helping the children who were dealing with illness and the stress of being in the hospital environment. One evening in college I was researching different career paths that could align with my goals and desires and stumbled across the world of Child Life. I instantly knew that this was what I wanted to do as a career, and I love getting to do this job every day. It is an honor to get to be part of these families’ journeys at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Nemours Children’s Hospital, and at Team IMPACT.

When a child has a serious illness or a disability, it can feel like a very overwhelming and isolating experience. They often cannot participate in sports, activities, or school to the same capacity of other kids. Many of the patients I work with in oncology were going to school, participating on teams, involved in clubs, and doing all of the activities children and teens typically do before their diagnoses. Then, their entire world got rocked with the news of their oncology diagnosis, and they were thrown into treatments where they are now dealing with changes to their body, uncomfortable side effects, and a totally new way of living. These treatments often cause patients to be immunocompromised, so kids often cannot participate in activities or even attend school like they used to. I have watched this take such a toll on their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, and finding socialization and a sense of belonging are crucial to developing and building a child’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

Team IMPACT helps provide a solution to some of these challenges. Soon after starting in oncology, I heard a presentation from a Team IMPACT member and learned about their mission and the services they offer, all of which aligned with what my patients were missing and needed. I began referring patients and am so happy I did. I have nothing but positive experiences and feedback from the patients and families that have worked with this organization. Team IMPACT provides patients a sense of belonging, community, and normalcy that are so desperately needed when dealing with a serious illness. Team IMPACT is and will continue to be one of the top organizations I encourage patients and families to form a relationship with.

One of the first patients I referred to Team IMPACT was a young school-aged boy who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. He was the biggest soccer fan. He loved the Philadelphia Union and played on several travel soccer teams prior to his diagnosis. When receiving the news of his oncology diagnosis and plan for a rotationplasty surgery, his biggest question and stressor was how long until he could play soccer again.

With each hospital admission, I noticed him becoming sadder and more withdrawn. We did therapeutic activities to discuss his feelings, during which I learned he was appropriately sad about losing his hair, missing his friends at school, and scared about his upcoming surgery. The topic he was feeling the heaviest about, however, was missing his friends at soccer, whom he used to spend the majority of his time with. He missed playing the game. Despite watching games on the television and playing table soccer while inpatient, it just was not the same. I decided to refer him to Team IMPACT to see if we could bring a sense of normalcy back and connect him to the game he loved so much. Team IMPACT was able to connect him with a local soccer team in his area. The team gave him a ton of swag, brought him to practices and games with them, visited him in the hospital, allowed him to be an “assistant coach,” sent him videos, and FaceTimed him while he was in the hospital. He even wore the team captain’s jersey as he rolled back into surgery to have his rotationplasty completed. Not only did I see this patient’s personality come back and a lift in his spirit, I saw him come out of his shell even more and gain a new sense of confidence. He was always excited to share stories about what he had done with team since the last time I had seen him and upcoming plans he had in the works for once he was discharged. His team gave him something to look forward to and work towards. Team IMPACT made a world of difference, not only on his mental/emotional health but also in helping him to heal and work toward his physical goals.

I absolutely see Team IMPACT as an extension of the patient’s care team. At the start of the referral process, I know I am communicating with a trained child life specialist or social worker who understands the hospital setting, medical terminology, and developmental impact of stressors I am including in the referral form. Each member of the Team IMPACT staff has continued communication with me, asking appropriate follow-up questions, providing updates, and collaborating with other team members. They always take into great consideration a patient’s medical treatment plan and status when assessing the best fit for each child. I know I can always reach out to them to request additional support and know that we can work as a team to address and accomplish psychosocial goals of care.