When Krista McHale was driving, she could tell when her 4-year-old son Colin was sleeping. The sound of snoring coming from the back seat always gave it away. Colin’s snoring, along with sleep apnea, was cause for concern. After a sleep study, Colin’s pediatrician recommended he have his tonsils removed.

Colin was referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist, who confirmed that Colin would need a tonsillectomy, which is the surgical removal of the tonsils often needed to treat sleep disorders.  

Krista was informed that Colin’s surgery would be performed at the Pediatric Surgical Center at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach.

Miller Children’s has the only modern, state-of-the-art Pediatric Surgical Center in the region dedicated exclusively to infants, kids and teens. From the kid-sized dressing rooms to the pre-operative playroom, the entire Pediatric Surgical Center is designed to offer a comfortable and family-friendly environment while patients and their families prepare for surgery.

Specializing in Surgery for Kids

Krista and Colin arrived at Miller Children’s at 6:30 a.m. on the day of surgery. The experience would take them both by surprise.

“I was expecting, being a children's hospital, a certain amount of kid-friendliness during the whole process,” says Krista. “However, my expectations were far exceeded from the moment we arrived.”

“When we checked in, the woman at the front desk noticed the doll my son brought with him,” says Krista. “She prepared a hospital bracelet with my son's information on it for the doll to wear, so he would match my son. My son was tickled pink!”

From the reception desk to the pediatric surgeons, each member of the Pediatric Surgical Center care team plays a unique role in the surgery experience for patients and their families.  

Fluent in “Kid”


After the check-in process, Krista and Colin headed to the pre-operative playroom, where they would meet their surgical team.

“The operating room doctors, nurses and anesthesiologists all came out to introduce themselves to us, but the part that really stood out to me was Shanna, the Child Life Specialist,” says Krista. “She explained the whole procedure to my son, speaking directly to him, and using words he could understand. She brought gloves, a cap and a mask for my son to touch and hold. She had photos of the operating room and explained all the equipment he was going to see. She even asked him questions at the end to make sure he remembered and understood what they had discussed.”

At Miller Children’s, Child Life Specialists teach children about surgery, medical tests and procedures in advance to help them feel prepared and set their expectations through a process called “medical play.”

“Preparing children for hospitalization or surgery helps to lessen their anxieties and fears,” says Shanna Jacobs, Child Life Specialist, Miller Children’s. “Allowing young patients to see medical devices, before they’re used by a doctor or nurse, reduces their stress, and in turn, their family's stress. The hospital can be a scary place for young children and it’s our job to help make the experience a more positive one.”

“Without Shanna there would have been a lot more unknown, and the unknown is always the part that is scary,” says Krista. “Because she could translate from ‘medical’ to ‘kid,’ she removed as much of the unknown as possible.”

Ready for the Operating Room

After spending time with Shanna, it was time for surgery. Krista, Colin and his doll made their way to the operating room. On most occasions, one parent is allowed into the operating room when the child is given anesthesia.

“I can’t thank the team at Miller Children’s enough for knowing just what kids need during their hospital stay,” says Krista. “I could tell a lot of thought had gone into making this the least negative experience possible. I’m so glad we did this at a children’s hospital.”

Nearly a month after his surgery, Colin’s doll still wears his hospital identification band – a subtle reminder of how a potentially scary experience was turned into a positive memory. 

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