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Pediatric gaming specialist helps kids cope at children's hospital

by JEREMY WEBER
Daily Inter Lake | July 18, 2021 12:05 AM

When Tristan Cline saw an online help-wanted advertisement looking to fill the position of pediatric game technology specialist at Logan Health Children's in Kalispell, he knew he had found his dream job.

Now, just over three months after taking the position, Cline still feels the same way.

"It was the craziest thing in the world. Here's what I was enjoying doing at home and this was an opportunity to do it for a living. It was a one-in-a-million opportunity," he said. "I still feel like I am dreaming every day when I come to this job."

A gamer from an early age, Cline cut his teeth in the video game world with Super Mario Bros. 2 on the original Nintendo Entertainment System he received for Christmas in 1988. Gaming has been a large part of his life ever since.

Cline continued to carry his passion for gaming as he pursued his childhood dream of becoming a police officer and even found a way to use video games to help relieve stressful situations during his time as a patrol and school resource officer in California.

"It was a way to help kids get their mind out of whatever traumatic situation they were in. I could play a game with a kid while their mind is not focused on whatever situation is going on around them. The bad situation could fade away for a little while," Cline said. "That is what we are trying to do at the hospital. It's not a fun experience to be in the hospital, so if I can be a fun little getaway or distraction, even for just a few minutes, that's what I want to do."

WHEN CLINE was forced to retire from the police force after being shot in the line of duty in 2017, he made the decision to move to the Flathead Valley along with his wife, Courtney, and children Andrew, 9, Mackenzie, 7, and Madelyn, 5.

Once again, gaming helped with the transition.

"I had a lot of catching up to do with my kids, since I had always been working before then," he said. "We started playing video games together and that's what we used to reconnect. It's another reason why gaming holds such a special place in my life."

Cline spent the better part of a year adjusting to his new life in Montana and reconnecting with his family, but when he learned that a grant from Child's Play Charity had helped Logan Health create a pediatric game technology specialist position in its children's hospital, he felt he was the right man for the job.

Logan Health could not have agreed more.

"We figured our hospital was too small and Child's Play would not be able to fund this position for us. This is a position you find at the larger children's hospitals all over the country, so we were thrilled when we found out our grant went through," said Carly Rickard, chief development officer of Logan Health Children's. "We felt that Tristan was our unicorn for this position as soon as we got his application. We knew right away that he was the right guy for the job and we have been really excited to bring him on as a part of our team."

LOGAN HEALTH'S partnership with Child's Play began in 2019 when the charity funded therapeutic and recreational technology for the new children's new facility, including MRI goggles, 12 Xbox consoles with adaptive controllers and two sets of virtual reality goggles. This was the first time in the charity's history that it was able to outfit a children's hospital from the day the doors opened.

Just two years later, Child's Play has supported Logan Health Children's with more than $130,000 in annual gifts, grants and in-kind donations of technology and games.

With an office equipped with Xbox, Nintendo Switch and PlayStation consoles, as well as a collection of mobile gaming carts, Cline is ready to help make each child's time in the hospital as easy as possible.

"We are able to bring a little piece of home here so that kids are more comfortable. Every day, I get to feel like I am truly making a difference," Cline said. "There are a lot of things about being in the hospital that are not fun, so if I can bring some enjoyment to these kids, I am going to do it. That's what this job is all about.

"Every day is exciting, and every day I wake up with a smile on my face," Cline said. "It's awesome. What more can I say?"

Reporter Jeremy Weber may be reached at 406-758-4446 or jweber@dailyinterlake.com.