i4Perfection150429-1A6A0291-Edit-EditBy Ritisha K. Chhaganlal, J.D.

University of Central Florida (UCF) second-year medical student, Christa Zino, and her 2-year-old adopted canine friend, Ion (a boxer), know that smiles can go a long way in healing the spirits of hospital-bound children during the holidays.  And they don’t stop there.  Zino and Ion visit Nemours Children’s Hospital (Nemours) in Orlando most Friday evenings to bring some joy to children who often have to endure extended hospital stays, arduous medical tests and procedures, and separation from family, home and school.  Most of these young children lack a normal childhood experience due to their illnesses, but Zino knows that Ion has what it takes to keep these tenacious little ones going strong regardless of their current circumstance.

That’s why even a busy schedule and final exams cannot keep Zino and Ion away from Nemours this month.  UCF Today quoted Zino as stating, “When I think it is too much and that I can’t handle everything, this reminds me…why I want to be a pediatric surgeon.  I want to help children like the ones I see every week.”

For more information on the benefits of animal-assisted activities, visit the Nemours website here.

Getting to Know Ion: 65 Pounds of Friendly Canine.

Ion is one of Zino’s three canine companions chosen by Zino to become officially certified for pet therapy.  Ion was adopted by Zino from Florida Boxer Rescue.  Zino says Ion is reserved around children and “gentle in a way he never is when he’s just with me [Zino].”  The fact that Ion is all-around a big fur ball of friendly should not be surprising considering his beginning (prior to rescue).  Apparently Ion has always lacked aggression, which most dog owners would appreciate, but ironically landed Ion on Craigslist by a disgruntled former owner who was disappointed that Ion was not a “fighting champion.”

Good riddance, however, because it seems Ion has found his perfect fit with Zino as a “health care professional,” providing therapy to others in the form of palm kisses and snuggles.  And he’s quite the hit within the UCF campus community of medical students as well, providing Zino’s fellow stressed-out and sleep-deprived classmates with a welcomed “pick-me-up” three times a week.

Zino’s Inspiration to Assist Children: Drawing From Her Own Experience.

Zino knows firsthand how dismal hospital life can be for a child because she was an extended-stay patient as a child herself.  Zino was diagnosed with a bile-duct blockage as a toddler.  With her condition being so rare in someone so young, Zino spent 18 months in and out of hospitals and away from her home and Chihuahua in Apopka, Florida.

While Zino recalls very little from her experience, the one thing she vividly remembers is her visit from a furry friend.  As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, Zino says she simply remembers “being happy” as a therapy dog sat on her bed keeping her company during a difficult time.

It was this very experience and positive memory that has led Zino to pursue a career as a pediatric surgeon as well as to carry on the grand tradition of meet-and-greets between sick children and a furry friend who shows up just in time to make them smile.

To read the full story as reported by UCF Today, click here.


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Kotala, Zenaida.  “Therapy Dog Brings Smiles Back to Sick Children, Medical Students.”  UCF Today: 21 Dec. 2015.  Web.  21 Dec. 2015.

Santich, Kate.  “Canine Spreads Cheer to Ill Children.”  Orlando Sentinel: 18 Dec. 2015: Final Ed.: A1 &A6.  Print.

About the Author: Ritisha K. Chhaganlal, J.D., is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone (407) 331-6620.

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