Volunteer inspires her employees, families to advocate for holistic care of children

On a sunny day in October, the RBC Race for the Kids at Comer Children's filled the University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park with more than 1,800 families, students, and community members who came together to support kids.

In all, participants raised more than $360,000 to fund groundbreaking research at UChicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital—giving kids and families hope for a better future.

Since its inception in 2003, the race has raised more than $2.4 million for pediatric research. The success of the race wouldn't be possible without Comer Children's advocates, like Angela Zotos.

Zotos, a Comer Development Board member and co-chair of the race, is passionate about health care. After starting her career as a nurse, Zotos earned a master's degree in health administration and served as a clinical director of the general operating room at UChicago Medicine in the 1980s. From her time in the field, she understands the importance of investing in research and compassionate care for children.

"As a young nurse, now 35 years ago, I knew that it's not only the medicine, but it's the touch, the interaction, the communication and conversation, and the eye contact that help make people better," she said.

Zotos, now a principal in the health care division of consulting firm Ernst & Young (EY), commits her time and philanthropy to the race and the research it supports, as well as Comer Children's Child Life and Family Education Program, which supports children's psychological and developmental needs while in the hospital setting.

As an advocate, Zotos spent countless hours preparing for the race and leading packet pick-up on race day. She inspired her employees and family members to give to her fundraising team, called #healthEY, which raised more than $7,000 – one of the top raising teams this year.

"It's very rewarding to help raise funds for the amazing programs at Comer Children's," she said. "I have seen how it makes a difference in a lot of people's lives."

Last year, the race funded research on food allergies, birth defects like spina bifida, and therapies for neuroblastoma, the most common cancer in infants. The Comer Development Board, a volunteer board committed to raising awareness and generating support for the hospital, disperses the race proceeds every year.

After meeting Jennie Ott, the director of Comer Children's Child Life and Family Education Program, Zotos was inspired to donate $25,000 to the program on top of her commitment to the race.

The Child Life program provides a holistic approach in caring for the emotional need of children and their families during health care encounters.

"Our master-degreed specialists strive to decrease the stress and anxiety of a child's illness in the hospital setting while making them as comfortable as possible," said Jennie Ott, director of the program.

Child life specialists use a wide range of medical dolls, teaching tools, and resources to prepare each child for procedures and treatments. Some of the programs offered include expressive therapies to create a safe environment for a child such as art therapy, cooking, music therapy, and pet therapy. Other programs are focused on preparing a child to go back to school after their hospital stay or special events to entertain and distract young patients from their illness.

"I always had an appreciation for the things outside the medical realm, such as visualization, distraction, and communication," Zotos said. "When I saw the kinds of initiatives Child Life employs and their impact, I thought, I can support this."

Research shows that children need more than medical care to help in their recovery process, Ott said, which is why the program focuses on the "whole" child and being partners with families in caring for children.

"I deeply appreciate the critical role of Child Life and the holistic care of children," Zotos said. "It makes me feel like I am making a difference in children's lives by helping the program."

Zotos, along with her employees, volunteered at Child Life through the EY Connect Day, which sets aside one day a year for employees across the organization to spend volunteering.

For Zotos, it was a great feeling to know that her and her employees were making a small difference for families and to see the impact of Child Life in action.

"How can you not feel good when you see that?" she said.

Learn more about the Child Life program or the RBC Race for the Kids at Comer Children's. Save the date for the race on Sunday, October 6, 2019.