On Oct. 20, Stephanie Kiefer and her 5-year-old son, Liam, made a special delivery to Mayo Eugenio Litta Children's Hospital: 28 Lego sets. There was a space shuttle and car kits, Lego Friends and Lego City sets.
All of the interlocking building blocks were given in recognition of a significant milestone in Liam's life: It was exactly a year since he'd been diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia.
"You never expect it to happen to you," says Stephanie, who works in Employee and Community Health at Mayo Clinic. "It's traumatic."
The Lego kits were the family's way of saying "thank you" for the care they received. "Mayo has done so much for us," Stephanie says. "Liam is on a good path. He's doing amazing."
The family's gratitude goes to Liam's doctors and nurses, of course. But they're also thankful for the many other members of his care team, including Mayo's Child Life staff.
"Child Life helps normalize the experience," Stephanie says. "And they bring a bit of joy to the hospital."
During Liam's 39 days in the hospital, that joy often came by way of a Lego set.
"Child Life staff would come into Liam's room and ask how they could make his stay better," Stephanie says. The answer was frequently found inside a box of colorful plastic bricks. "It was a great distraction because the kits take a little time to put together."
Liam also enjoyed bingo games, which were played over TV due to COVID.
"We miss the sense of togetherness we had before COVID," says Jennifer Rodemeyer, child life manager. "We try to help fill this void by offering programming through closed-circuit TV. Kids can call into live programming to interact throughout our events. We sure are thankful for the virtual world."
That world helped Child Life staff care for Liam's 10-year-old sister, as well. They set up a Zoom call to explain Liam's illness in terms she could understand.
"We take care of the whole family," Rodemeyer says.
In addition to age-appropriate education for patients and their siblings, Child Life staff coordinate activities like family meals and family game nights. All of which are made possible in part thanks to the generosity of donors like the Kiefers.
"Families often want to pay it forward by donating to the Children's Center after their child completes treatment," Rodemeyer says. "We also have a generous staff."
Giving often picks up around the holidays, when many are looking for ways to give back. One opportunity is to purchase items from an Amazon wish list with items to meet Child Life's current needs.
"You can shop for our patients from anywhere with just a click, and the item gets delivered directly to our program," Rodemeyer says.
Whatever the gift, the message behind the giving is clear: Someone cares. And that's a message Stephanie, who has worked at Mayo Clinic for 14 years, is committed to sharing.
"Liam's experience changed the way I thought about my work," she says. "I came back and tried to convey to my team how important it is to let our patients know we're here for them and want to support them on their journey."