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Certified Child Life Specialist joins Pediatric team at Mary Free Bed

Certified child life specialist Kelsey Combs Mary Free BedGrand Rapids, Mich. — Certified Child Life Specialist Kelsey Combs has joined Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital to help its youngest patients cope with their illness and hospitalization.

Combs, who comes to Mary Free Bed from Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, will provide services that educate, support and prepare young children and teenagers.  She will collaborate with Mary Free Bed’s Pediatric Program team to advocate for patient needs by determining how to best minimize anxiety and support their recovery.

“We serve kids with struggles unlike any other,” Combs said. “I want them to feel like they are safe, in control and are supported.”

Combs will use developmentally appropriate therapeutic play and educational techniques to help patients adjust to the hospital setting, understand their illness or injury, and reduce pain and anxiety during medical procedures, therapies and treatment.

“All of these things can give them control over their situation so they can be successful,” she said. “It’s important to build people who are successful and who take ownership of their own health. To do that, we have to build children who are capable of doing that. Providing them with the resources and the education that‘s necessary to build these coping mechanisms so that they can be successful is huge.”

She also will work with brothers and sisters of patients at Mary Free Bed to help them comprehend and cope with their sibling’s hospitalization, as well as provide support and information to parents so they can best support their child.

Implementation of special programs, such as visits by John Ball Zoo animals, also are in the works.

“We are so fortunate to have Kelsey as our Child Life Specialist here at Mary Free Bed,” said Maria Besta, manager of the Recreational Therapy and Wheelchair & Adaptive Sports programs. “Kelsey has added so much value by providing the expertise to help our inpatient kids and their siblings feel free to express their frustrations and fears. At Mary Free Bed, we want our children to feel supported and have an understanding of their disability or illness when they leave this very safe environment and begin engaging in life at home.”

Combs earned a Bachelor of Applied Arts degree in Child Development from Central Michigan University and is certified by the Child Life Council.

Mary Free Bed is the only inpatient rehabilitation hospital in the region with a unit designated exclusively for children and teens who have experienced brain injury, brain-related illnesses and concussion; cancer, neurological conditions, stroke, spinal cord injury, fractures, chronic pain conditions, surgery, burns and other debilitating illness and injuries.

Mary Free Bed is a not-for-profit, nationally accredited rehabilitation hospital. For 125 years, Mary Free Bed has restored hope and freedom through rehabilitation for children and adults who have experienced brain injuries, strokes, spinal cord injuries, multiple traumas, amputations, cancer and other diagnoses. The combination of comprehensive services and an exclusive focus on rehabilitation enables specialty physicians and staff to help patients achieve outstanding clinical results.



As a fellow Child Life Specialist…but more importantly as a sibling of a brother who has a traumatic brain injury, I am ecstatic to see Mary Free Bed adding a CLS! Families are going to be so blessed by Kelsey’s contributions. Well done Mary Free Bed!

Tricia Boot

We couldn’t agree more, Megan! We’ve passed along your kind words to Kelsey. – Tricia Boot, web specialist, Mary Free Bed


Kelsey is incredible! Very happy to see Mary Free Bed taking this step. She will be a great asset to your team!


My care while I was at the hospital was amazing because of Kelsey. She made me me feel confident my daughter was getting excellent care. I know my daughter really enjoyed her every time she saw Kelsey during her stay at Mary Free Bed. Our experience would not have been the same without her.


Kelsey will be an incredible asset! I had the privilege of growing up with this amazing young lady! Having had cancer myself in high school, I know how important the Child Life Specialists were to me in the hospital to help free my mind from what was going on. Kelsey will be so great!


DEAREST Kelsey what “A” blessing MARY FREE BED is having with an ANGEL such as you floating their hallways and rooms! God has been so good blessing our families with such knowledge, from parents to the most pretty angels, love ya bunches, Gramps STAFFORD Saintfrancisvle,La.


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