Therapy dog’s value rises with every snuggle
Leaning down to pet the yellow Labrador retriever sitting in front of her, Siobhan Heiden’s eyes glistened with tears.
In March, Heiden was walking when she was struck by a car. Later, she was in a coma. Her memory is still a bit jumbled. She’ll remember a morning and an afternoon, but not know if the day was the same.
But this dog, she remembered. His soft yellow fur. His bright red scarf and name badge. The way he jumped into her hospital bed with her.
Blitzen, a 5-year-old dog, is the only four-legged volunteer at Indiana University Health Arnett Hospital. His owner is Nancy Gatmaitan.
Sitting next to Heiden, Becky Di Fabio met Blitzen when she was recovering from her second brain surgery. He gave her a kiss, lay with her and lifted her mood.
“I stopped crying and felt better,” Di Fabio said. “I wanted to see them and thank them.”
“I feel the same way,” Heiden added.
Lying in the lobby of the hospital, Blitzen was showered with smiles, hugs and belly rubs. It was his first day back after a summer off, and for the first time, former patients came to see him and say thank you.
“It’s just really amazing seeing the patients. They were so ill and sick when Blitzen and I came and saw them,” Gatmaitan said. “Just seeing how well they are doing now that they are healthy, they remember Blitzen, and they think Blitzen helped with their recovery, so that’s an exciting thing.”
A certified therapy dog, Blitzen visits the hospital on Wednesdays to see patients on three floors. He’ll put his head on their laps or hop in bed and go to sleep, Gatmaitan said. And after about a year of weekly visits, the hospital hopes to add more therapy dogs.
“We piloted the program last year, and we are looking to expand the program this year,” said Cheryl Suter, manager for volunteer services. She said the goal is to add more teams to have a therapy dog visit daily. But they must be nationally certified as a therapy dog to work at the hospital, Suter stressed.
It was love at first site meeting Blitzen for 7-year-old Zaine Wagoner. And the boy, who is prone to memory loss after a traumatic brain injury and stroke, has never forgotten the dog’s name.
“I said, ‘Do you remember that dog’s name?’ ” said his father Chad Wagoner “And he said, ‘Blitzen!’ ”
Wagoner said life is filled with hospital and doctor visits for Zaine, and being in the hospital is removed from outside life, so meeting Blitzen was a refreshing change.
Although Heiden was out of a coma by the time she met Blitzen, her friends and family say meeting him was the first time she was truly alert and herself.
“My personality was still there,” Heiden said. She looked at Blitzen. “It just took somebody special to bring it out.”
~ Courtesy of USA Today