Starlight’s newest team member, Sara Mathews, brings a new perspective – one that many Starlight families can relate to. She was born with a congenital heart defect. She’s endured seven major surgeries, the first one at just two weeks old. She’s had long hospital stays, hundreds of doctor visits and she knows what it’s like to live with a chronic illness.
“Being dependent on my pacemaker made everyday life look different for me. As a child, even the smallest things felt big, like not being able to carry a normal backpack or missing a school play because of an emergency surgery,” Sara said. “I’m still surprised at some of the things that affected me.”
Sara also remembers the help she received and she knew one day, she wanted to become that person to others.
Before one of her surgeries, a Child Life Specialist at Cleveland Clinic gave her a medical doll that Sara could play with and use to learn more about the hospital. Medical play allowed her to better understand the upcoming surgery while still having fun. She remembers playing on a Starlight Fun Center with her parents for extended periods of time.
Career as a Child Life Specialist
Her past made her cautious and Sara didn’t take a direct career path into healthcare.
“The stress of multiple hospitalizations lingered with me, and I initially avoided this destination as a career choice,” Sara said.
She received a bachelor’s degree in business and philosophy instead. In 2013, after realizing what mattered most to her, she made the shift to became a Child Life Specialist and made it her life’s mission to normalize the hospital environment for kids and families.
Strengthened by her past experiences, Sara thrived as a Child Life Specialist in the Emergency Department at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. She provided joy and comfort to kids and families in one of the busiest trauma centers in North America. She particularly loved dressing up every Halloween!
Welcome to the Starlight Team!
Sara decided to make one more career change, this time, joining the Starlight team as our new Programs Manager.
“As a Certified Child Life Specialist, I was proud of the work I did. But, there was a feeling of wanting to help even more. Through Starlight, I can help hundreds of kids a day and I can support this profession that I love,” Sara said.
“I deliver Starlight programs to hospitals across the country,” Sara said. “Getting to work with 700 plus child life departments makes me excited. I can speak their language and know their atmosphere.”
Sara is just as passionate about Child Life as she is traveling! She’s visited Costa Rica, South Africa, England, France, and volunteered at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand.
Sara’s skill set, experience and compassion will provide our hospital partner network with the right programs to meet their needs.
Welcome to the Starlight team, Sara!