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WakeMed Working To Ease Children's Fears About Surgery

Posted February 25, 2003
Updated December 14, 2007

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— Most children have questions and fears about surgery. At WakeMed, their questions are answered and their fears are calmed in an effort to reduce their recovery time.

Like many 5-year-olds, Ari Brown asks lots of questions. When he needed surgery, Ari's mother said he started asking serious questions.

"He was asking questions about, 'What would it be like? What were they going to do?' And I really didn't know what to tell him," Susan Brown said.

Jennifer Kreimer, a child life specialist at WakeMed, meets with young patients before surgery to help answer those tough questions.

"I'll have preschoolers through adolescents tell me, 'Am I going to wake up? Or am I going to wake up in the middle of surgery?'" Kreimer said.

She said those fears can have serious effects on children.

Studies showed children who cried when they were put under anesthesia took longer to wake up and took longer to heal.

When children were calm, the study showed it had the opposite effect.

"Children who go to sleep with the anesthesia in a more relaxed, calm state wake up more relaxed and calm," Kreimer said.

Kreimer said she allows her patients to decorate their anesthesia masks with stickers. She also lets them put cherry ChapStick on the masks, so the gas does not smell so bad.

"When they breathe in, it smells better," Kreimer said.

On the day of Ari's surgery, he said he was too busy to be scared.

"I was a little nervous, but I suddenly got to having too much fun," he said.

The doctors who performed Ari's surgery used a liquid sedative called Versed which is designed to relax young children and cause temporary amnesia.

"Their last memory is being here with their parents by their side," Kreimer said.

Doctors said it made surgery a less stressful experience for Ari.

Some hospitals allow parents in the operating room to distract their child while they are being put under anesthesia.

National Institutes of Health

issued a $3 million grant to research the best ways to prepare young patients for surgery.


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