Jonathan and Laura Zucker

Laura Zucker gets it. She understands, as a mother of two, the importance of world-class doctors and state-of-the-art technology in a pediatric hospital. But as a former patient herself, a patient who endured 21 surgeries, she also knows that kids care more about something else .

“They need to feel comfortable and safe,” Zucker said recently. “They need a place that’s an escape from that treatment zone.”

Her family this month announced a $5 million contribution to establish a 3,200-square-foot indoor therapeutic play area -- the sanctuary that Zucker describes -- inside the new MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital. The Jerry and Anita Zucker Family Atrium, named for Zucker’s father- and mother-in-law, will provide a home base for MUSC’s child life program, which encourages emotional well-being in health care settings through play, education and support.

Born with a cleft lip and palate, Zucker underwent surgery after surgery as a child. She remembers, at age 9, flailing her arms, while hospital staff restrained her and proceeded with anesthesia. As a teenager, she stopped fighting the procedures and also recognized that other kids faced the same challenges.

Zucker first learned about the child life concept when considering a master’s degree program. She knew she wanted to pursue that career track but soon discovered that no such program existed in South Carolina – so she set about making one.

Zucker, who earned her master’s degree in early childhood education from College of Charleston, worked with college leadership and members of the MUSC child life team for four years to create the Child Life Master of Science program. Now in its third year, the program has graduated students that work in some of the nation’s most elite children’s hospitals – including MUSC. 

“I want more people to know about child life,” Zucker said. “Even some doctors don’t know, but I hope that one day every hospital has some sort of child life program.”

Laura and Anita Zucker have taken an active role in planning the details of the proposed space in the new MUSC facility. They want existing arts and crafts and teen areas to transfer to the new building, but they also envision additional amenities, including a stage for patients and visiting performers, a calming space for children on the autism spectrum and closed-circuit television to bring interactive games to patients who can’t leave their rooms.

“The atrium we have now is beautiful, captivating and wonderful,” Laura Zucker said. “And now we have the chance to really be state-of-the-art. We have the opportunity to make it the focal point of the hospital.”

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Headline Keywords:

child life, donor story, grateful patient