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Pediatric CenterChild Life

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The sign on the door speaks volumes: “Welcome to Child Life: Where Fun Happens.”

But inside that door, a small play area and office are presided over by two women with big hearts, devotion to children and educational credentials that make them the Child Life experts in the only hospital in Green Bay to provide Child Life Services.

Big Joe Little Joe


At just 3-years-old, “Little Joe” was without a doubt, St. Vincent’s youngest “colleague”, and now he has retired.



Those credentialed in Child Life are pediatric health care professionals who work with young patients, their family members and others involved in the child’s care in order to help them manage stress and understand the medical and any other procedures they go through during their stay at St. Vincent Hospital.

The Child Life team consists of the Child Life Coordinator, Colleen Ducke, and the Child Life Specialist, Ashley Zimmerman. Their aim is to minimize the negative aspects of the child’s treatment and the family’s experience during hospitalization, said Colleen Ducke. Both women are employed full time by Prevea Health and their work with the families is supported by the Pediatric Intensivists, Hospitalists, and Nurses.

“What do I love about Child Life?” Ducke asked. “Everything, especially being able to help people and make a difference for our families. We see them come in with children who are sad, sick and it’s scary for them. Before long, we can make them happy, smiling and see them playing.”

Child Life personnel visit the children and their families early on in their admission, getting to know them and make them comfortable with their hospital surroundings. “If we can help keep the children calm and happy we can help ease the parent’s worries too,” Ducke said. “We say, ‘Let us help you.’ We stay with the child while the parents can take a break and we do therapeutic play activities with the children. We know that if the kids are happy and not upset, the parents are less upset and stressed.”

St. Vincent has a busy pediatric oncology practice and many children receive chemotherapy treatment at the hospital. Oftentimes when children feel well enough, they will come to the Child Life play areas, a good break from their hospital room. “This is a stress free area where the kids can just play. Nothing medical happens in this playroom so the kids see it as their safe place.” If they can’t come out, Ducke and Zimmerman bring activities to them. “They’re still getting treatment, but they can have fun while they do,” she said.

The Child Life Specialists work with students who are interning in Child Life throughout the school year, the summer and over the Christmas holiday break as well. Information on that growing field and how to intern with St. Vincent Pediatrics is also available on this Web site.

Child Life is blessed with many active volunteers who help Ducke and Zimmerman on the pediatric floor. “We are very lucky to have so many volunteers who can help us provide breaks for the parents, play games with the children, clean toys and work on projects.” They are also the recipients of a good number of donations of toys, games, TVs and video systems, although with the volume of young patients they see, the need on 10th floor is also growing. The two women have prepared a Wish List which those coming to this Web site may click on and print if they want to make donations of cash or furnish items on the list.

Child Life was present at St. Vincent in a small way when Ducke took over seven years ago in 2002, but the role has become fully developed since then and extends far beyond playtime with the children.

The Child Life staff are now routinely called to various hospital departments assist children during preparations and procedures for themselves. They are also called to adult surgical and intensive care units to help children cope with grief when their loved ones are hospitalized on 4th, 6th and 9th floors. Child Life will also go to the Emergency Center when young patients arrive and need sutures, IV and other medical procedures. Oftentimes physicians ask for Child Life to accompany children for distraction when the kids need MRIs, upper GIs, CT scans and other medical procedures.” The Child Life reach extends beyond 10th floor, Ducke noted.

The Child Life staff try to instill in parents and children alike that there is still a need for normalcy even when a child is ill. “We let them know there still needs to be discipline and rules and regulations. There is a need for please and thank you and to have manners and a normal environment,” she said. “And we encourage parents to take care of themselves. But a crisis period makes it much harder.”

Hospital Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis Hospital Sisters Health System