Letting in the sunshine




After the dark and uneasy years of Covid, new special events supervisor Meg Sanders can’t wait to see the Zone come alive again.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Meg Sanders is running late. She’s been running all morning, so it’s appropriate that she is wearing sneakers as she races into the Child Life Zone at Riley Hospital for Children.

“I’ve been booked back-to-back-to-back today,” she said as she caught her breath. “But it’s OK, it’s all good stuff.”

Sanders stepped into the role of special events supervisor at Riley in January and has management responsibilities for a portion of the Child Life Specialist team. She replaced Melissa Sexton, who accepted a new job with Riley Children’s Foundation after more than 20 years at Riley Hospital.

The two have known each other for years. Sexton actually introduced Sanders to the field of Child Life at Riley back when Sanders was a high school sophomore in Zionsville.

“I was invited here to Riley and met with Mel in the playroom of our old hem-onc stem cell unit, which is now the Maternity Tower,” Sanders recalled. “It was a beautiful spot to learn what Child Life was. Mel directed me to great schools that offered internships, and I committed to it.”


Lucky for Riley, she returned here to begin her career. After college, she was hired by Sara Barnett, Riley’s manager of child life services, and started as a child life specialist six years ago this month. In the beginning, she floated to different units, namely 9 East and the urology clinic, but for the past three years, she worked in interventional radiology on the second floor, preparing kids for procedures.

“I am passionate about helping kids feel safe in a situation where so many things are out of their control,” she said. “On the second floor of our hospital, kids go back across the red line and separate from their parents, their support, their caregivers, and they come to the people with the blue pajamas, as I like to call them. I take great pride in the work that child life specialists do on the second floor and have loved being part of that team for three years.”

While she’s not new to the hospital, she acknowledges that she has plenty of room to grow.

“I couldn’t possibly attempt to fill Mel’s shoes. I wear different shoes,” she said. “I’m Meg Sanders, and I wear sneakers.”


She needed those sneakers last week to keep up with the superhero team that swooped in to visit Riley patients. Professional window washers dressed as Spiderman, Thor, Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk rappelled down the walls of Riley, hanging outside the windows as kids and adults cheered.

It was the first big event she orchestrated in her new role, and it was a huge crowd-pleaser.

After two years of virtual events, the superhero appearance marked the beginning of a new chapter, hopefully post-pandemic, Sanders said. In time, the Child Life Zone will reopen, and in-person parties will resume, but this is also a chance to reassess how to best care for all kids, particularly those whose health prevents them from joining others in activities.

“It’s time to start building again. The pandemic has taught us to be creative with technology and virtual options for just about anything, and I intend to carry that through,” she said.

The daughter of a librarian, Sanders understands how participating in group activities, even if they are virtual, fosters a sense of togetherness and connection.

“It’s part of our one-team approach at Riley,” she said. “We are one hospital, and each of our patients should have the opportunity to participate in a party even if they cannot be there in person. We have a lot of assets here – we need to look at things in a different way.”

While she appreciates the precautions Riley has taken in limiting visitors and in-person events, she will be ready to kick off the party in the Zone when the time arrives.

“I hope to see the Zone come alive again. I can’t wait for that,” she said. “But what we learned through Covid is to celebrate every small victory. I don’t know that working in healthcare will ever be the same, but we’re defining what that will look like and how we can be grateful when we’re on the other side.”


Sanders, who planned special events in college and started Ohio University’s first dance marathon, has just as much passion for her work as a child life specialist. That’s why she worked with Barnett to carve out time for continued support in that area on the second floor.

Sanders now supervises the second-floor perioperative child life team, as well as overseeing special events, the Zone, community partnerships, the Riley studio and CCTV programming.

“It was important to me to add a clinical aspect to this role where I could jump in and help support the team,” she said. My passion point is still the second floor, and I’m fortunate to have a leader who listens to what I’m passionate about to keep me invigorated and excited about coming to work.”

Barnett believes Sanders is a perfect fit for her new role, saying she “leads with enthusiasm and excellence” every day.

Not only does she bring joy and comfort to patients and families, she is adept at building relationships and engaging community partners, Barnett said, which is key in her role as special events supervisor.

“Meg quickly mastered this skill through her authentic leadership. I receive positive comments about her leadership every day from team members and community groups alike. Riley is fortunate to have Meg leading the way with special everts for our patients.”

Sanders, who lives in Broad Ripple with her husband, Erik, and their rescue pup, Baker, loves to indulge her creative side in her spare time. That might include DIY projects in the couple’s 100-year-old bungalow, working in their large garden and traveling.

“I like to live life somewhat spontaneously, taking opportunities as they come.”


The opportunity to take a leadership role at Riley came at a good time, and she felt called to explore it, she said, especially as she watched how her fellow team members gave their all during the pandemic.

“We were the only multidisciplinary team to remain in the hospital during the entire pandemic. I’m so proud of the work we were able to do in that time,” she said.

But just like many other people at Riley, her team is tired and has struggled, she acknowledged, blinking away tears and recalling how team members would find respite in the Zone during the shutdown and learned to lean on one another.

During her interview process, Sanders was asked which of IU Health’s four core values she identified most with, and she responded “compassion.”

“We are human beings who come in to do this work, and we need to be cared for too in order to give the best of ourselves to our patients and families,” she said.

“I hope this team sees that our leadership team truly does care about every single one of them. I know how special they are and am so proud of the work they do every day. I don’t want them to feel like that’s ever lost. I’m learning as a leader there are a lot of things outside my control … but ultimately, we just want to do the best for our Riley kids and families, and that’s a culture that transcends Child Life to the Riley way.”

Now that she hopes the worst of the darkness of Covid has passed, she looks forward to seeing how the team can continue to grow.

“We want to let more sunshine in to help lift some of the weariness everyone is feeling. And we must acknowledge how we’re feeling – that’s how we conduct our sessions with children. Why wouldn’t we do the same with each other.”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org