Small Moments. Big Impacts

Published on November 11th, 2022 by Christina Echegaray.

By 10 months old, Callaway Farkas had spent much of her life in and out of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, with several hospital stays lasting 27 to 29 days. Her frequent hospitalizations were a result of an inborn error of metabolism known as methylmalonic acidemia. She had too much methylmalonic acid in her blood because her liver was unable to break down certain fats and protein building blocks, making her sick.

Weary and exhausted from all the pokes, tests and admissions their infant had experienced, Carina and Luke Farkas were saddened during a hospital stay in April 2021 that Callaway, affectionately known as “Calla,” needed a peripherally inserted central catheter, or PICC line, to make blood draws and medication administration easier. They also would have to leave the room. It broke their hearts to not be present with Callaway during the procedure.

That’s when Certified Child Life Specialist Chloe Flood stepped in. The Child Life team at the hospital works with families to promote a positive medical experience. Through therapeutic play and activities, child life specialists create a friendly environment to help children feel more comfortable, including during medical procedures.

Carina fondly remembers how Flood, who had worked with them during inpatient stays, pulled out her cellphone and asked, “What are Callaway’s favorite songs?” Carina rattled off the songs on her daughter’s bedtime music playlist — Ben Rector’s “Extraordinary Magic” and Kacey Musgrave’s “Rainbow,” among others. Flood created a music playlist and walked back in the room to be with Callaway.

“It goes against every maternal-paternal bone in our bodies to not be with our children during some of the scariest moments of their lives. Knowing that there are people in the room with her that don’t view her as just another patient or just another task provides the smallest bit of comfort and relief when we can’t be there ourselves,” Carina said. “Knowing that Chloe cared about something small enough like that, even for a 1-year-old…the symbolic nature of that was not lost on us. Words fall short, but it was very important and meaningful.”

More than 100 years ago, a group of Nashville women set out to achieve, among many things, impactful moments like the Farkas family experienced with Flood. The Junior League of Nashville was formed in 1922, amid the polio epidemic that left thousands of children paralyzed. These women set out to be champions of children’s health care and to help patients and families through a steadfast commitment to service and transformative philanthropy.

Much of the group’s rich legacy features the longstanding partnership with Monroe Carell, in which the two organizations have carried out a collective vision to ensure quality and compassionate health care for children. Through volunteerism and transformative gifts, the Junior League has helped shape crucial health care initiatives and established numerous foundational programs at the hospital, which includes significant support for the Child Life Program.

“Starting a century ago and continuing today, the Junior League of Nashville has had a vision of what children’s health care could and should be. Time and time again, the Junior League has come together through special programs, volunteerism and philanthropy to support the children and families in our community and at Monroe Carell,” said Meg Rush, MD, MMHC, President of the hospital.

Children’s health care — past, present and future

The Junior League of Nashville’s partnership with Vanderbilt dates to 1923, when the Junior League Home for Crippled Children opened. The “Home,” as it was referred to, provided free convalescent and rehabilitative medical care for children with polio and other diseases. The idea of the Home was also to make it as much of a homelike atmosphere as possible.

While growing and advancing their mission through the decades, they joined efforts in the 1960s to be a part of conversations for a proposed future Monroe Carell. In 1971, the Home relocated to the children’s floors of Vanderbilt University Hospital.

Through the years, the Junior League’s gifts have helped support the Junior League Family Resource Center, the Child Life Program, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Developmental Follow-up Clinic, the Junior League Sickle Cell Disease and Asthma Program and many more programs. Previous gifts also include providing capital to help build the freestanding children’s hospital that opened in 2004, and again in 2016 to help support the hospital’s Growing to New Heights Campaign to build the most recent four-floor expansion.

The Junior League also provided the groundwork for comprehensive maternal fetal care programming at Vanderbilt more than a decade ago when it made a transformative gift to improve care for pregnant women and their infants. The League enabled programming to get off the ground, expand and set the foundation for what is now The Reed Family Maternal Fetal Clinic.

In June, for the Centennial celebration, the Junior League marked the milestone anniversary and partnership with another $1.5 million commitment to the hospital. The Centennial anniversary gift, part of the Junior League’s ninth supplemental agreement with Monroe Carell, will go to support the hospital’s pediatric rehabilitation efforts.

“As the Junior League’s partnership with Vanderbilt has evolved, what has remained steadfast is our dedication to addressing unmet needs in our community. Our centennial gift underscores this commitment,” said Jenny Barker, Junior League of Nashville President (2021-2022). “In this full-circle moment, we are making a gift that looks to the future, with a focus on family-centered care, while paying tribute to the past.”

This gift establishes the endowed Junior League of Nashville Directorship in Pediatric Rehabilitation for a physician, yet to be named, to lead pediatric rehabilitation initiatives at Monroe Carell. It will also be used to create an endowed fund that will help grow the pediatric rehabilitation program and related patient- and family-centered care well into the future.

Over the years, the Junior League has given nearly $20 million, including the latest gift, and thousands of volunteer hours.

“It is fitting that for the centennial anniversary, the Junior League’s latest generosity connects back to its roots in rehabilitative medical care for children by supporting pediatric rehabilitation efforts at Monroe Carell. We are tremendously grateful to the Junior League for its enduring partnership, now and for many more years to come,” Rush said.

The difference makers

Volunteer work is also an important tenet of every gift the Junior League makes to Monroe Carell. Prior to COVID-19, in-person volunteers hosted special events for patients and families and spent time with patients in the hospital playrooms and at the bedside, whether to play a board game or offer companionship.

Behind the scenes they have ensured the hospital has items for the comfort cart, which provides travel-size personal items and snacks for patients’ families. During COVID-19, with public health safety measures in place, the Junior League pivoted to ensure their volunteer mission endured with efforts like playing bingo virtually with patients, putting together activity kits and delivering notes to front-line health care workers.

Photos from Junior League of Nashville through the years. The Junior League opened the Home for Crippled Children in 1923 to provide convalescent and rehabilitative medical care in a homelike environment for children with polio and other diseases. Photos from the League archives.

“It was apparent from the beginning of my child life journey that the Junior League of Nashville volunteers would be an integral part of our team at Monroe Carell,” said Stephanie Van Dyke, director of Child Life and Volunteer Services. “Their support continues to be a difference maker in how we are able to provide the very best medical and psychosocial care for children, teens and their families.”

Carina would agree. The League’s impact is not lost on her. During each hospital stay, the Junior League’s support of the Child Life Program has helped to fill their time with difference makers, not just for

Callaway, but also for the entire family, down to the smallest details.

“Child life specialist Malie Jones learned that I loved doing crosswords, and she just showed up one day and handed me a Wall Street Journal crossword with a pen,” Carina noted, adding that those personalized touches go a long way.

Callaway, now 2, had a liver transplant in June 2021. While her parents hope she has fewer hospital stays with a new liver that is better able to handle her condition, they know that the Child Life team and groups like the Junior League make a tangible difference for countless families in the hospital.

“Having programs like Child Life genuinely helps families to keep going, and that’s all we want to do for our kids. I am extremely grateful,” Carina said.

The Farkas family marvels at how far Callaway has come. Each morning, she greets the day with, “Bye-bye bed. Hello day!” She enjoys the small things: like the thrill of being hung upside down and being twirled around; like watering flowers at her grandparents’ house or exploring the yard. Even as a toddler, she knows that small moments have big impacts.

“She’s just a firecracker. She loves life,” Carina said.