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Preserving a Legacy: Allison West, CCLS

Allison West, CCLS
When Allison West began her work at St. Jude Midwest Affiliate Clinic as a newly-minted Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) in 2016, she knew she had “big shoes to fill.” Shelley Lee, the former CCLS at the clinic, had been there 26 years. What Allison didn’t realize right away was Shelley’s legacy of referring hundreds of children with critical illnesses to Make-A-Wish.

“She actually received an award from Make-A-Wish for referring so many patients,” Allison said. “As I began my new position, hearing Shelley's multitude of Make-A-Wish stories jump -started my heart to ensuring each eligible patient received a wish.”

During her time there, Allison has been able to witness first-hand as she has referred 28 children to Make-A-Wish. She said a wish can expand a child’s concept of what they’re able to do while they’re battling their illness, offering a promise of something unique and joyful in the midst of a trying time.

“A wish is a ray of hope, despite how bad a prognosis can be,” Allison said. “It allows a patient to have a choice in a world where they have little say in many things … It also opens up an entirely new world of ideas for a lot of patients. [They] realize there is a whole additional group outside of the medical staff, their family and their friends who believe in them to get through this illness.”

Recent research has studied the effects of granting wishes on children and found significant improvements in hope, positive emotions, health related quality of life and anxiety.1

“From my experience, a wish is such a different ‘medicine’ for these patients and families,” Allison said. “They were able to be a ‘normal’ child or adolescent during a trip, or felt ‘normal’ going shopping or utilizing their new item. They each come back a bit more refreshed and renewed, including the rest of the family.”

Allison said that a wish experience not only brings joy into the life of a child with a critical illness and their family, but also to the lives of the medical team treating the child. She said it “adds another dimension” to the team and keeps them positive when things get tough.

“The medical staff always asks me what [a child] chose to do [for their wish], or what they are thinking of doing,” Allison said. “It is a point of rapport building which everyone can engage in. If a family receives news a child has taken a turn for the worse, the medical staff immediately come to me and ask if a referral has been made.”

Despite the clear positive effects a wish has been proven to have on the lives of children and their families, there are some who may not understand the importance and power of a wish come true. Allison believes those people might not fully grasp the full impact of a wish.

“A wish is a unique piece of the medical field that can no longer go unnoticed,” Allison said. “The power of a wish is hope for not only patients, but other family members knowing that there is a whole other group cheering them on and offering a sense of normalcy … I truly believe the ability to ‘rush’ wishes [for kids with a poor prognosis] has saved families and provided a more positive coping method.”

To those who work with children who may qualify and haven’t made a referral to Make-A-Wish yet, Allison said the smile on the face of the child alone makes it worth it.

“It is an opportunity to uplift a child on a tough day,” Allison said. “It is a very simple process that can be life altering for so many children and adolescents, and a unique opportunity to positively alter a medical experience for patients and families.”

1Shoshani, A. Mifano, K. Czamanski-Cohen, J. (2015). "The effects of the Make a Wish intervention on psychiatric symptoms and health-related quality of life of children with cancer: a randomized controlled trial." Quality of Life Research, 25(5), 1209-1218. doi 10.1007/s11136-015-1148-7

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