New facility dog supports cancer patients at Norton Children’s Cancer Institute

Thanks to a gift from Aiden’s Legacy and with support from raiseRED, Luna is the newest employee of Norton Children’s Cancer Institute.

Cancer patients at Norton Children’s now have a furry companion to help them through treatment.

Thanks to a gift from Aiden’s Legacy and with support from raiseRED, Luna is the newest employee of Norton Children’s Cancer Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. The 2-year-old black Labrador works in the cancer unit in Norton Children’s Hospital and at the Novak Center for Children’s Health. In the Novak Center, Luna interacts with and provides therapeutic support to kids receiving outpatient cancer treatment. For patients in the hospital, she offers a sense of normalcy and emotional support during the children’s stay. 

“Our facility dogs not only offer comfort but provide children with an outlet to verbalize their fears,” said Heather Stohr, manager, child and family life, Norton Healthcare. “Luna will provide support during a very challenging, and sometimes lengthy, journey for families.”

More than 3,000 patients from 98 counties across Kentucky and Southern Indiana receive care from Norton Children’s Cancer Institute each year. Norton Children’s is home to one of the oldest oncology programs in the U.S. and includes more than 200 leading cancer specialists.

Funding for Luna was provided by Aiden’s Legacy. Aiden Johnson, a two-time survivor of leukemia, is creating his legacy by supporting pediatric cancer patients at Norton Children’s Cancer Institute, where he was treated. Aiden has raised more than $450,000 in support of patients at Norton Children’s Cancer Institute since 2013 and has committed to raising an additional $250,000 with the support of the community.

“Dogs are great, and they make me smile and laugh,” Aiden said. “It brings me happiness to be able to bring additional smiles and laughter to the kids with the Aiden’s Legacy dog, Luna.”

“Anything we can provide to help ease the stress of the diagnosis process and treatment for these kiddos is exactly what Aiden’s Legacy is all about, and who doesn’t get relaxed by the loving gaze from a special dog,” said Gena Johnson, Aiden’s mom.

RaiseRED, the University of Louisville’s largest student-run philanthropic organization, provided funding to hire Luna’s handler. The group has raised over $4 million for research and patients’ needs at Norton Children’s Cancer Institute and the University of Louisville School of Medicine Division of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation.

“Luna and the child life team make a huge difference in reducing the stress and anxiety patients and their families feel while in the hospital,” said Addy Abels, raiseRED youth philanthropy coordinator. “RaiseRED is so excited to support them.”

Norton Healthcare’s facility dog program, called Heel, Dog, Heal, now has 11 facility dogs. Research shows that full-time, trained facility dogs can motivate patients to be more mobile, lend a paw during distressing or painful procedures, encourage socialization, and offer a calming presence during episodes of pain and anxiety. The Heel, Dog, Heal program is solely funded by the generous donations of community members through the Norton Healthcare Foundation and Norton Children’s Hospital Foundation

“We’re grateful to Aiden’s Legacy and raiseRED for their continued support and for helping us expand a program that has been so beneficial,” said Lynnie Meyer, Ed.D., R.N., CFRE, senior vice president and chief development officer, Norton Healthcare. “This gift will allow even more children and families to receive additional help to calm their fears, relieve anxiety and heal.”

Luna was trained by Paws With Purpose through the organization’s program at the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women in Pewee Valley. Dogs are bred to be service and facility dogs, and start their training around 8 weeks old.

Luna loves playing fetch, going for hikes, and playing hide and seek with toys. She also can play musical instruments and paint. Follow her on social media #HeelDogHeal and @LunaLendsAPaw.