Profile: Myra Fox, former director of Child Life Services at CHB

October 1, 2008

Former Child Life Services Director Myra Fox recounts her experiences at Children's Hospital Boston.

"It was barbaric," said Myra Fox, who spent 44 years changing the idea of what a children's hospital should be. She started at Children's Hospital Boston (CHB) in 1964, and retired this past July. Under titles that began as "play lady" and ended as director of Child Life Services, Fox brought as much support as she could to every child who stepped foot in the hospital.

This story of change sounds like it should be a book-and it is. One you, and your patients, have probably read. CHB asked author/illustrators Margaret and H.A. Rey to tour the hospital, and see how patient-friendly it had become. Fox led them through the play rooms. That research led to Curious George Goes to the Hospital, a perpetual best-seller.

"Play," Fox said, "is the foundation of a child's life." The child life staff gives children "continuity," making the hospital more like home. Their routine doesn't have to be shattered: the child life staff goes to great lengths to give every child the support they need to thrive, and have some fun as well.

Holidays became important under Fox's reign at CHB. Valentines were made for nurses on Feb. 14. On Halloween, kids walked or wheeled to each room, exchanging scares for candy or non-edible treats. "Christmas," she said proudly, "takes place on December 25," not a few convenient days earlier. Two Santas ("God forbid they meet") prowl the hospital every year. Every child there gets a gift, even if they're just a visiting sibling.

"For most of these children, this is their first experience away from home," Fox said. The Child Life department at CHB offers parents places to sleep, lactation rooms, and even washing machines to make long stays with children workable. If both parents work, conveniences like these may make an extra visit possible.

The department also arranges tutors to help with school work, and uses art and music therapy as well for enrichment. It works with food services to not only have special meals for picky eaters, but to cook with the child. The Child Life staff also helps calm patients who need stitches, so only a local anesthesia-and a bubble wand-is needed.

One teen with cystic fibrosis had looked forward to her prom for months, but was told she wasn't healthy enough to go. "She was devastated," Fox said. No matter; they gave her a prom at CHB. One of the play rooms was decorated, the women all pinned prom dresses to their scrubs and outfits, and the men pinned boutonnières. The teen's doctor dressed in a navy blue suit, and asked her for the honor of the first dance. "I always cry when I even think about it," Fox said.

"[Children's Hospital Boston] just screams kids," Fox said. "We're going to help you emotionally, socially, mentally. To me, it's been the best second home, for 44 years." For thousand of patients, it's been a great second home as well.