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Golden retriever brings healing smiles at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital

By Anna Schuessler | 12 Jan 2011

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Related News: From medication to baking cookies, children’s hospital offers unique therapies to kids in chronic pain

Nurse practitioner Sandy Sentivany-Collins and her golden retriever Carly bring smiles to patients at Stanford's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. (Photo: Anna Schuessler)

For some patients in the Pediatric Pain Management program at Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, a small shift in attitude is just what’s needed to get on the road to recovery. But that shift maybe hard to come by, and it’s always difficult to figure out what may trigger it. Still, the pain clinic’s nurse practitioner, Sandy Sentivany-Collins, has one secret weapon that always brings patients a smile.

In the hallway outside the occupational therapy room, Sentivany-Collins passes by a mother using her Blackberry to record her son throwing a light plastic ball to his therapist. She grins at the scene as the three heads turn to watch her walk past. But it’s not really Sentivany-Collins they turn to see. Next to her trots a light-stepping golden retriever wearing a hospital badge around her neck. The dog’s name is Carly, and almost everyone in the hospital, whether they are patients, staff members or visitors, knows who she is.

As Carly and Sentivany-Collins makes their way to the in-hospital elementary school, squeals of delight and pattering feet greet them. Children wearing paper masks and pulling oxygen tanks clamor to pet Carly’s rabbit-soft fur, and Sentivany-Collins apologizes to the teacher for disrupting the class.

“Sometimes, I think Carly is the best team member,” said Jerry Chao, a fellow in the Stanford pediatric anesthesiology program.

Carly joined the pain management team six years ago after Sentivany-Collins rescued her from a local pound.

“Her first mission was to cheer up a 10-year-old girl who lost a leg to flesh-eating bacteria,” Sentivany-Collins remembers. After an amputation surgery, the young patient spent weeks on her bed with the shades drawn. “She didn’t want to see people… didn’t want to talk to anyone. But when the dog came in, she got out of bed to pet her.”

Now, Sentivany-Collins receives notices from doctors all over the hospital requesting a “Carly consult.” The message prompts Sentivany-Collins to walk Carly over to a particular patient’s room for yet another field of therapy: animal therapy. The nurse wore a pedometer to work one day and recorded a total of 6.2 miles.

“I hardly ever have to give [Carly] a walk during the day,” she said.

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