As a member of the child life team, Bobbi Jo Vandal, a board-certified music therapist, helps children manage stress, reduce pain and get better faster by playing, creating and listening to music.

Above and Beyond for child life campaign update

August 26, 2019

Above and Beyond campaign reaches more than 91 percent of fundraising goal.

Over the past year, Sanford Children’s Hospital in Bismarck has undergone a transformation. Stepping off the sixth floor elevators, staff, families and visitors will hear the sound of children at play and music ringing in the hallways.

“I’ve been covering pediatrics at Sanford Bismarck for 21 years, and I’ve honestly seen such a transformation of our children’s hospital since the incorporation of child life and music therapy,” said pediatrician Dr. Todd Twogood. “It’s basically been one of the best things I’ve seen come to us in a long time.”

Generous donors to the Sanford Health Foundation helped make this change possible. Last year, the Foundation launched the Above and Beyond campaign with the goal of bringing the region’s first child life program to Sanford Bismarck. The community, including local leaders, businesses and Sanford employees, came together hoping to raise $3 million with Sanford Health matching each gift dollar for dollar.

In November, the child life program officially launched with Certified Child Life Specialist Ashley Renton and Board-Certified Music Therapist Bobbi Jo Vandal.

While the program immediately improved the experience of so many children and families, fundraising efforts continued to ensure these services would always be available for our region’s children. Today, donors have helped the Foundation reach more than 91 percent of its fundraising goal.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for child life,” said Sara Haugen, director of the Foundation in Bismarck. “Our generous donors were inspired by the mission of child life and stories of local families to support this program and shape its legacy in central and western North Dakota.”

The child life team uses music and play to help children manage stress, express feelings and cope with the physical, social and emotional challenges of an injury, illness or hospitalization.

“We’ve become a permanent fixture and a fully integrated part of the treatment and care team,” Vandal said. “The nursing staff has really grown accustomed to referring child life and music therapy services for procedure assists, anxiety and coping, and providers are asking us to help kids recover after surgery, support physical therapy goals and so much more. It’s amazing how music and play can motivate kids in these areas.”

Vandal told the story of one young patient who was unhappy and scared about being in the hospital and not complying with her physical therapy. After playing music and writing a song about her cat with Vandal’s help, the patient showed the control and motivation to accomplish her goals.

The physical therapy team later remarked that she was like a different kid after working with Vandal. The child went home with a new positive association for the hospital and shared her song with her cat.

“My most favorite moments are those when it’s very clear to me that music is a motivator when nothing else is,” Vandal said.

Vandal and Renton have come to the aid of children not just in the children’s hospital but throughout Sanford Bismarck including helping families in the neonatal and adult intensive care units. Best of all, their services are provided at no cost to families.

“Some of the most rewarding moments have been providing comfort to families going through loss and grief,” Vandal said. “Heartbeat recordings have been an integral part of my services during a loss, and families have reported that they have cherished these recordings and used them to process their grief and remember their loved ones.”

See the impact for one local family.

We need your help in the final stretch of the Above and Beyond campaign to ensure child life services continue for many years to come. To learn more about the Above and Beyond campaign and show your support today, visit sanfordhealthfoundation.org/childlife or contact one of our major gifts officers: