Social Worker Brings Inspiration to Cystic Fibrosis Patients
Being around children with critical illnesses and their families, who are often anxious and exhausted, would take a mental and emotional toll on anyone. It would be easy for someone to get caught up in negative feelings if they work at a children’s hospital.
For Angela Berger, a licensed clinical social worker at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, the best way to combat these emotions is to refer a child to Make-A-Wish.
“Wish experiences engage the medical staff caring for the child and always makes work a little more happy,” Angela said. “They’re just tickled. They love to hear about the wish kid’s progress as they figure out their wish, and eventually get it granted.”
Angela has been a social worker for 20 years and has worked at Lurie since 2014. She has referred 20 children to Make-A-Wish since 2012.
Angela said education was the biggest reason she started referring children when she worked at the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital with HIV positive patients.
“I really started doing it because Make-A-Wish started reaching out to us and educating people on staff about the organization,” Angela said. “I ended up referring a lot of kids after that.”
Now, Angela works with children who have cystic fibrosis – another critical illness for which a cure has yet to be discovered. She says wishes are “hopeful and sustaining” for those children in particular.
“It’s something to look forward to, to plan, and it gives them hope,” Angela said. “The process brings both me and my patients joy.”
Angela said the children she works with have multiple hospital stays a year, for a minimum of two weeks at a time. The thought of Make-A-Wish granting their wish keeps those children going and gives them something else to focus on other than their illness and frequent treatments.
“[These] diseases are exhausting and time-consuming, and it’s great for these kids to have something to look forward to and … know people acknowledge them,” Angela said.
Recent research has shown that a wish experience has the power to rejuvenate a child with a critical illness and even aid in their physical recovery. Angela said she’s witnessed this first-hand almost every time one of her patients has had a wish granted.
“The kids come back [from their wishes] energized and excited,” Angela said. “They love to share everything they’ve seen and done with their nurses and everyone else.
"A wish can broaden the expectations these kids might have for their lives, and inspire them to fight harder.”
While Angela cares deeply about all her patients, she said one wish child in particular left a lasting impact on her: a 19-year-old girl who wished to get a tattoo from a famous artist in California. The girl traveled a few times to get each part of the tattoo drawn, then she would fly back home to show off her new ink to her friends and the staff at her hospital.
“We [the medical team treating her] could actually see the wish happen!” Angela said. “We loved hearing about it. It took a lot of work, but the end result turned out very special.”
Despite the clear positive effects a wish has been proven to have on the lives of children with critical illnesses and their families, there are some who may still doubt the importance and power of a wish come true. Angela said those people should keep an open mind, and speak to a wish child about their experience if possible.
“They should understand [progress] isn’t always something measurable,” Angela said. “Wishes are about quality of life, and bringing joy back into a life. Any way you can improve a life should be done.”
Angela had some words of encouragement for any medical professionals who are hesitant about fitting a referral to Make-A-Wish into their already busy schedules.
“I would challenge them to come to a Make-A-Wish event, invite a Make-A-Wish representative to speak at their organization or even partner with a social worker who could help get the referrals started,” Angela said. “They might have to adjust their workflow structure to enable referrals, but it’s really easy – each referral I do is online, and they usually take me less than five minutes.”