Edward celebrates 100,000th visit of Animal-Assisted Therapy program. Read more.
Pooch helps Edward Hospital celebrate 100,000th program visit
By Melissa Jenco | Daily Herald Staff
Savannah Sokol may have been sitting in a hospital bed Tuesday, but her eyes lit up and she let out a giggle as a furry four-legged friend entered her room.
The 5-year-old Naperville girl was Edward Hospital's 100,000th patient to receive a visit from a dog in the hospital's Animal-Assisted Therapy program.
"I just think it's really special, especially for the kids being sick and in a scary place for them," said her mom, Christine Vergari. "I just think the dogs coming in makes them feel a little bit more comfortable."
Edward Hospital staff and volunteers gathered to celebrate the milestone visit, marveling at how far the program has come.
Patty Kaplan, the program's director, helped start the therapy sessions at Edward in 2002. What began as the work of 15 teams has now grown to 84 dogs and 88 handlers who visit about 1,100 patients a month.
"It's mind-boggling. I never thought we'd be celebrating 100,000 visits," Kaplan said. "That was never on the radar so this is a huge milestone for us. I have just the most fabulous volunteers."
Kaplan said getting a visit from one of the dogs has been shown to lower patients' blood pressure and improve their mood. A study performed at Edward found such patients required only half the pain medication of those who did not receive a visit from one of the dogs.
Edward CEO Pam Davis said the letters she receives most often are from patients who participated in the program.
"People feel a sense of really being cared for and having made a difference in their lives. For the employees who work here it's also a highlight for us many days as well, just seeing something so naturally cuddly ... it makes all of us feel so, so good."
In Savannah's case, it brightened the couple days she spent in the hospital due to a complication related to Type 1 diabetes. She was scheduled to be released Tuesday, just two days before her sixth birthday.
Seeing Kaplan's Large Munsterlander pointer named Paxil was like a little reminder of home, where Savannah's family has three dogs, two cats, a gerbil and a parrot.
"It was black and white and really cute," Savannah said of Paxil. "I like him."
Kaplan said more animal-assisted therapy volunteers are welcome and can get more information about registration, requirements and training at edward.org.
"They (volunteers) will tell you as much as they give they get so much back in return," she said. "Some of the visits where we've made such a difference in somebody's life, it's very surreal. I don't think any of us realized the impact we would make."
Naperville, Illinois (IL) - Edward Hospital and Health Services