Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital Receives Generous Gift from Patient’s Family to Enhance Child Life Services

For Gabriella Sommers, the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack Meridian Health Hackensack University Medical Center has literally become her second home. In January of 2017, Gabriella was diagnosed with a rare and hard to diagnose auto-immune disorder called lipoatrophic panniculitis and has developed Type 1 Diabetes as well. Since her diagnosis, Gabriella has been to the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital dozens of times under the care of various physicians in a variety of specialties including Endocrinology, Dermatology and Rheumatology. Her father, Russell Sommers says Gabriella and the entire family have become very close to team members at the children’s hospital.

“People should know that when they go to the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital, it’s not like any other hospital. It really is different,” said Russell. “The physicians and team members are all special among special people.”

During a recent appointment with her rheumatologist, Susanne Li, M.D., Gabriella and her parents surprised the team with a $10,000 gift to the children’s hospital. The money is from a grant that Russell applied for through his employer, Baker Tilly. Russell, a CPA for the company, said this donation was important to family because of everything his daughter has been through and the outstanding care she has received from team members, especially the child life team.

“I would say to parents, I hope you never need the services at a children’s hospital. But, if you do, the place to come is the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital. The care we have received here has been nothing short of exemplary.”

The Sommers’ family requested the money be used to support child life services, because of the support they have received from the child life team.

“My daughter has actually begun to look forward to going there. It’s not too often a child looks forward to going to the hospital,” said Russell. “But, Gabriella does and she really enjoys seeing Erika. She is exceptional. We don’t have to ask for her, Erika just comes to visit Gabriella when she comes to the Medical Center. ”

According to Ellen Goldring, section chief of Child Life at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital, the funds will be used to hire a child life assistant, who will support the child life team through provision of play and activities to patients and siblings during hospital stays. The child life assistant will help to maintain the playrooms, to ensure they are child-friendly, safe and meet Joint Commission standards.

“Gabriella is a very exceptional young girl,” said Ellen Goldring. “She is brave, sincere and receptive, which makes her wonderful to work with. Our goal was to help her through her adjustment to diagnosis and arduous treatment. Her parents are resourceful and reach out to child life appropriately, knowing the kind of support their daughter needs. This donation from Russ’ company is one more way in which they validate and show their gratefulness for what we do. The respect and appreciation between the family and the Child Life Department is truly mutual.”

Through the Child Life Department, Gabriella has been invited to participate in various activities outside of the medical center including the ArtWorks program and Pony Power Therapies. Throughout her treatment, Russell says Child Life has supported the entire family.

“It’s every parent’s worst nightmare to be told that there is something medically wrong with your child,” said Russell. “It’s even worse to not know what it is and to navigate through a series of diagnoses including terminal illnesses. Then as one diagnosis is settling down, another is flaring up. Throughout the entire experience, the Child Life Department was there to help us, to help Gabriella understand why the treatments are necessary, how to articulate what she is feeling, to help us develop ways to better communicate with her about her illness and ongoing treatment. The Child Life Center at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center has helped my family more than words can describe. ”

Russell and Michelle Sommers recently surprised team members at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital with a generous donation, on behalf of Russell’s employer, Baker Tilly, in honor of the care their daughter, Gabriella, has received.
From left to right:
Russell Sommers; Michelle Sommers; Gabriella Sommers; Erika Belli, specialist, Child Life, Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center; Ellen Goldring, section chief, Child Life, Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center; and Susanne Li, M.D., rheumatologist, Department of Pediatrics, Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center.

About Hackensack Meridian Health Hackensack University Medical Center
Hackensack Meridian Health Hackensack University Medical Center, a 781-bed nonprofit teaching and research hospital located in Bergen County, NJ, is the largest provider of inpatient and outpatient services in the state. Founded in 1888 as the county’s first hospital, it is now part of one of the largest networks in the state comprised of 33,000 team members and more than 6,500 physicians. Hackensack University Medical Center was listed as the number one hospital in New Jersey in U.S. News & World Report’s 2017-18 Best Hospital rankings – maintaining its place atop the NJ rankings since the rating system was introduced. It was also named one of the top four New York Metro Area hospitals. Hackensack University Medical Center is one of only five major academic medical centers in the nation to receive Healthgrades America’s 50 Best Hospitals Award for five or more years in a row. Becker’s Hospital Review recognized Hackensack University Medical Center as one of the 100 Great Hospitals in America 2017. The medical center is one of the top 25 green hospitals in the country according to Practice Greenhealth, and received 23 Gold Seals of Approval™ by The Joint Commission – more than any other hospital in the country. It was the first hospital in New Jersey and second in the nation to become a Magnet® recognized hospital for nursing excellence; receiving its fifth consecutive designation in 2014. Hackensack University Medical Center has created an entire campus of award-winning care, including: the John Theurer Cancer Center; the Heart & Vascular Hospital; and the Sarkis and Siran Gabrellian Women’s and Children’s Pavilion, which houses the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital and Donna A. Sanzari Women’s Hospital, which was designed with The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center and listed on the Green Guide’s list of Top 10 Green Hospitals in the U.S. Hackensack University Medical Center is the Hometown Hospital of the New York Giants and the New York Red Bulls and is Official Medical Services Provider to The Northern Trust PGA Golf Tournament. It remains committed to its community through fundraising and community events especially the Tackle Kids Cancer Campaign providing much needed research at the Children’s Cancer Institute housed at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital. To learn more, visit