An Award for a Pediatric Oncology Hero

August 28, 2019

There was a big hero at this year’s Little Heroes Prom, hosted by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for kids with cancer and their families. Lee Russeth, senior child life specialist at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital, was named prom queen for her dedication to the hospital’s youngest oncology patients.

Mom Stephanie Gresser knows firsthand how deserving Lee is of this honor, after experiencing Lee’s positivity with her daughter, Maggie Wright. Diagnosed at age 11 in 2017, Maggie spent 28 days at Hackensack University Medical Center for initial treatment.

Then, because Maggie’s leukemia type was somewhat rare, she needed to undergo additional advanced treatments at The Children’s Hospital, where she spent the next 180 days. Here, she met Lee.

“We were in a darkened room, and Lee peeked her head in and said, ‘I’m Lee, can I get you anything?’ And she brought Maggie a really soft blanket,” says Stephanie. Lee, who always had a smile on her face, would sit with Maggie in the infusion room during her chemotherapy sessions, and later would take Maggie to the art room or bring her yarn to crochet—one of Maggie’s favorite hobbies.

As Lee describes it, her job is to help the kids balance the medical aspects of their care with some play and distraction. For example, she provides age-appropriate explanations to kids about medical procedures. “I’ll talk them through an IV start, or explain how a catheter or port works before the clinician comes in so the child has less anxiety,” she says.

In some cases, parents ask Lee to explain the broader picture of their child’s health situation, such as the need for another surgery or the possibility of future disability. “We work toward honesty, so there are no surprises,” Lee says, “but we always honor the family’s wishes and how much they want to share.”

Another sign of their special relationship, Lee presented Maggie—now 13 and a dedicated hospital volunteer herself—with her hero’s medal at the prom.

Tell us about a Hackensack Meridian Health team member who made all the difference in your care.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.