Know Your Neighbor: Leah Frohnerath - Guide to Greater Tampa Bay
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Know Your Neighbor: Leah Frohnerath

Know Your Neighbor: Leah Frohnerath

Leah Frohnerath’s inspiration to provide emotional support to children with health challenges stems from her own experience as a child. The Seminole native was born with Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia, a neurological disorder that affects mobility. After undergoing multiple surgeries and pediatric hospital stays, she required intensive rehabilitation.

At age six, she was one of the first riders in the Horses for Handicapped Foundation of Pinellas County program. Her parents hoped her love of animals would combine with the neuromotor benefits of horseback riding as a fun way to provide needed therapy. They soon realized the emotional benefits were as impactful as the physical.

Animal Insight  

“Horses are patient and perceptive animals that learned what my body cues were intending to tell them,” Frohnerath said. “It was on horseback that I was free of my disability and able to feel graceful and fully empowered. They are my equalizer.”

Today she is the president of the organization that aided her as a child. Her 14-year-old daughter Jocelyn works alongside her as a horse leader and volunteer. The married mother of two is proud of the many social and emotional benefits the program offers youth in the community.

Frohnerath’s love of animals and their influence on the human experience continue to motivate her today as a child life specialist for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Her role is to use developmental, educational and therapeutic interventions to help patients and their families cope with illness, injury, treatment and hospitalization.

First Facility Dog Program  

While at a conference, Frohnerath learned about the Facility Dog Program. She returned with a mission to integrate one into the medical care plan at Johns Hopkins All Children’s. Facility dogs are expertly trained to help children cope with the most challenging medical situations and diagnoses.

“Animals were always a source of comfort for me,” Frohnerath said. “I recognized their power to improve our mental health, motivate us to be active, change our outlook and reduce our stress.”

In February 2021, Brea joined the Child Life team as the hospital’s first facility dog. Frohnerath said Brea has a capacity for empathy and an ability to connect with children that transcends words.

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Emotional Impact  

Together they help motivate patients to meet their goals, make the hospital environment feel more like home and give kids a reason to play and smile, even when they are sick or injured.

“This program has far exceeded our expectations. Leah and Brea have truly made their pawprint on our organization,” said Child Life Program Manager Heather Bailey. “You can’t go too far through the halls of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital without hearing a story from someone about how they have forever changed their hospital experience.”

By Jennifer Kennedy.

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