• Wed. Oct 5th, 2022

Cincinnati Children’s employee wins Child Life Specialist of Year award

Mattie Dunn, who is a child life specialist at children’s Hospital, has won a national award for her work in bringing joy and comfort to pediatric patients and their families. Photos provided by Delta Airlines and photographed pre-COVID.

By Dan Yount

The Cincinnati Herald

Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (CMN Hospitals) announced that Mattie Dunn, a child life specialist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center is the recipient of the second annual Child Life Specialist of the Year award. 

Presented by Delta Air Lines, Dunn was chosen from a select group of child life specialists nominated by Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals member hospitals from across the United States in recognition for her outstanding service and commitment to patients.

According to information released with the award, as an employee of Cincinnati Children’s for 30 years and a child life specialist for the past seven years, Dunn empowers children and families as they navigate complicated and emotional journeys with psychiatric, behavioral and developmental disabilities. Because standard medical procedures like blood draws or MRIs can be daunting for a nonverbal or disabled patient, their family and hospital staff, Dunn acts as an advocate to identify and accommodate the individual needs of her patients. Her creative and personalized approach eases a child’s anxiety and fear while delivering first-rate medical and emotional care. Dunn’s attendance to her patients, her optimism and tireless work ethic inspired her entire community. 

Mattie Dunn. Photo by John Paul Van Wert

Dunn said, “What we do is reduce anxiety in patients coming through our health care system.’’

Wanda Baker, Clinical Manager, Division of Child Life and Integrative Care, elaborates on Dunn’s work. “Mattie is one of a kind. She works with children and youth diagnosed with neuropsychiatric/neurobehavioral/developmental conditions, including attention deficit disorders, disruptive mood disorders, fragile X- associated conditions, autism, intermittent explosive disorder and other conditions. This is a population with very specialized needs. She always shows up with a personalized plan, creative ideas and a smile. She’s amazing, and able to lay an understanding framework for the staff around the children as well as connecting with the children, so that they know and feel the trust that is around them.”

“I meet patients right where they are,’ Dunn said. “I don’t look at the fact that they have developmental delays. That means nothing to me. It is very important for me to break through all of that and build rapport with the patients, for them to know that Miss Mattie is going to take care of them.’’

Eilen Clark, Clinical Director, Division of Child Life and Integrative Care, said Dunn’s “passion exudes in all she does, and all of the time she has this grace and smile and way about her that is authentic.’’

Clark added, “Her presence in just being there, and then the way she gets an understanding of what suits, what comforts, what types of things are non-threatening, and then builds around that, is a win-win situation.’’

Clark noted that children pick up on our energy, “and they pick up on the energy coming from this warm, authentic, caring human.”

Mattie Dunn, right, with Wanda Baker, Clinical Manager, Division of Child Life and Integrative. Photo provided by Delta Airlines and photographed pre-COVID

So, several years ago, when Dunn was diagnosed with breast cancer, she refused to let it hold her back.

“You know, having breast cancer was just a part of my journey, but it did not affect what I had to do for the children,” Dunn said. “Your energy is low, and you have to figure out a way to get that energy from someone. One of my patients told me I ‘move like a 90-year-old, and now you can’t catch me.’  And I was feeling like a 90-year-old,“ she added as she laughed.

Yet Dunn came to work every day with a big smile and took care of her patients throughout chemo and remission “She was an inspiration,” Clark said.

“Yes, coming to work and seeing the kids was my medicine,” Dunn said.

Baker said Dunn is a bright spot, a ray of sunshine. “When Mattie walks into the unit, everyone feels good,” she added.

Mattie Dunn, center, with the child life specialists at Children’s Hospital and Delta Airlines employees. Photo provided by Delta Airlines and photographed pre-COVID

A former patient, who Dunn had not seen in six months, recently walked into the unit, and when he saw her, he ran to her. “Miss Mattie. Miss Mattie, I missed you. I missed you!” she said he told her.

“I’ve heard people describe it as if I am almost magical with these kids,” she said. “But those interactions alone fill my heart with joy. These kids need our love. They need our support. The need us.”

As the winner of the Child Life Specialist of the Year award, Dunn received two round-trip Delta tickets. The airline also made a $15,000 donation to Cincinnati Children’s in honor of Dunn. 

To meet Mattie and learn more about her work as a Child Life Specialist, watch at https://youtu.be/oA2QhyouGwQ. Video footage was filmed prior to the pandemic.

Delta Air Lines, in partnership with CMN Hospitals, created the Child Life Specialist of the Year award to honor and recognize the hard work and compassion of Child Life Specialists and the critical services they provide for hospitalized children and their families, along with bringing awareness to the need for child life funding at children’s hospitals.

Child Life Specialists help normalize the hospital experience and bring joy and comfort to pediatric patients and their families. Many of the funds raised by CMN Hospitals are used to fund Child Life programs and help make up the gap between what government and insurance pay for and the actual cost of caring for kids in our member hospitals.