Christy Lange ’08, M.S. ’10, an alum of the child life program in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, is currently a facility dog program coordinator at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston.

Lange originally started her time at Illinois State University as a student in the accounting department before she found her passion in the child life program.

Christy Lange and Dexter’s matched day in February 2019.

Lange shared that she became interested in child life because “I have a chronic illness myself, and I had spent a little bit of time in hospitals throughout middle school and high school. I had never met a child life specialist during those times. When I discovered the field in college, it was sort of that personal connection of, oh, I really see how this could be impactful. So that was really what kind of drew me into the profession.”

She had worked for about a year in a nonprofit organization in Chicago prior to realizing that she wanted to be at the bedside as a child life specialist. For about seven years, Lange worked on an inpatient surgical trauma floor at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. About that time, the hospital decided that there was an opportunity to add a program with full-time facility dogs. Lange now leads that program.

Dexter, Lange’s “animal co-worker,” has just celebrated his three-year anniversary as a facility dog. He is five years old now. He was born and raised through an organization called Canine Companions, which trains service dogs for individuals with disabilities. The dogs learn about 40 different commands to be able to assist in one of those categories. A service dog might be able to retrieve a dropped cell phone from the floor, bring a cane to their human, or be able to use a push plate to open doors for an individual in a wheelchair.

“I don’t need him to do those tasks for me, but I can take that same training and really use it to help the kids in the hospital. Sometimes I’ll give him my badge, so he can jump up and open doors for the kids, and they just love it,” Lange said.

Christy Lange and Dexter play with their patient.

Dexter improves the patient experience in many ways. When Lange and Dexter visit a patient who needs to be getting out of bed and walking after surgery, it can be more exciting for the patient to go on a walk with the dog. It might even motivate the patient to recover faster. Dexter also knows how to play with the children. For example, he can hold onto a bucket, and the kids can put the toys in the bucket for him to collect. When the patients have treatments, Dexter will lay down next to them. The patient can focus on petting Dexter instead of on the medical procedure.

“We’ve provided support during a number of procedures. Dexter can come right up and snuggle them, and they can just lean in and have that comfort of having him right there by their side throughout the process,” Lange said.

From left: Christy Lange and Dexter alongside Renee, MS, CCLS, and Pilot. Pilot is also used in the same capacity as Lange and Dexter.

All jobs have challenges, and Lange’s is no exception. Having more hours in the day would be helpful: “There’s so much more that I would like to do, than what there is time to do,” she explained, even in having Pilot as an adding second facility dog. There are approximately 300 beds in Lange’s hospital, and there are currently two dogs on staff. “The root of our program goals is to help kids who are having a hard time with a component of their treatment or hospital stay. Knowing that I didn’t see all of these kids who would have loved him, who we could have helped, is difficult. So just balancing and prioritizing our schedule is the hardest part of my day.” Lange hopes to continue to grow this program at her hospital in order to be able to help more patients.

Interested in learning more about the child life program at ISU? Visit the Department of Family and Consumer Science’s website for more information.