When Hannah was hit in a tragic accident, Molly, a therapy dog from the Visiting Pet Program helped her recover.
It’s amazing what a therapy dog can achieve, as this story proves:
Shannon’s last ten days had been spent glued to Hannah’s ICU bed, listening to the hum and beeps of the machines whose tubes and cords threaded into and around her eight-year-old daughter, and watching the steady stream of nurses, doctors, and respiratory therapists. She was unable to accept the awfulness of what had happened.
Hannah had been whipped thirty-seven feet into the air by a hit-and-run driver. She was not, thankfully, dragged and bumped several more blocks under the car like the heap of pink rods that used to be her bicycle. When the doctor left the operating room to talk to Shannon, he had not minced words. The cervical nerves leaving Hannah’s brain stem had been severely dislocated, leaving her without the ability to regulate her own vital signs. Her chances of surviving through the night were small.
Shannon clung to any fact that helped her continue to hope. Her biggest relief was that her daughter had not died that first night in the intensive care unit. In fact, Hannah had survived nine nights in ICU, despite a body temperature that fluctuated drastically and oxygen levels that took periodic nosedives. She had spent last night on the pediatric floor. Shannon tried to think of this accumulation of facts as mounting evidence of her daughter’s journey to wakefulness. But nagging little doubts kept pushing their way in and her mental and physical exhaustion was making it hard not to give in to the despair. She escaped to faith and fervently prayed for her daughter’s life: Dear God, let it be thy will that I have not seen the light in her eyes and dimples of her smile for the last time.
The Visiting Pet Program makes their hospital rounds
The Visiting Pet Program was just then beginning their regular Saturday morning circulation through the pediatric floor. Lee was leading Molly, a little white terrier with wiry hair, into Hannah’s room when a floor nurse stopped her. Quietly the nurse discouraged her from entering. “There isn’t much point in visiting in this room. The little girl is in a coma.”
Shannon jumped to her feet. Her fears and hopes were bumper cars banging and twirling in her head. This is a clean and sterile environment! she thought. Why would anyone bring animals in here? But she recalled how much Hannah loved animals and waved Lee and Molly into the room. Shannon looked down at the little dog with the huge, round, brown eyes and the wildest white fuzzy coat she had ever seen, took a deep breathe, and instructed Lee where, on Hannah’s bed, to place Molly. Lee lifted Molly onto the bed near Hannah’s face, then moved Hannah’s hand, brushing it against Molly’s hair. “Here’s Molly, Hannah,” Lee said. “Can you pet her?”
Lee continued working with Molly and Hannah as other members of the Visiting Pet Program softly entered the room. They stood awkwardly watching Molly and Lee, asking Shannon about Hannah: What was wrong with her daughter? Shannon, tired and distracted by the questions, had turned to respond when she heard someone say, “Look, she’s petting Molly!” Shannon whirled around and zeroed in on Hannah’s small hand. It wasn’t much, but it did appear that Hannah was moving her fingers.
Hannah wakes up, thanks to Molly
Molly was just then very gently licking Hannah’s face, as though she was trying to wake her. Lee alone, leaning close to Hannah and holding her hand, saw that Hannah’s closed eyes had begun to flutter. It looked like a newly born butterfly attempting to open its wings. Lee watched intently as Hannah’s eyelids continued to quiver, never quite opening, and decided to intensify the demands on the little girl. She moved Molly above Hannah’s head and said, “Find Molly, Hannah. Can you pet Molly?” Shannon watched, afraid to look and afraid not to.
When Hannah’s arm began jerking upward to her new friend Molly, Shannon gasped and the tears started flowing. Screaming with joy, she grabbed Hannah’s nurse. The two elated women held tightly to each other, jumping up and down like pistons in an engine.
“At that moment,” Shannon recalls, “I knew that my baby girl was still in there and that someday she would wake up.”
Hannah awakened slowly over the next two months, a normal course for people who have been comatose. Molly’s initial triumph opened the door for a whole zoo of animals to participate in her recovery, including a pot-bellied pig and a slender wiggly fellow that Hannah insisted was a weasel.
Shannon recalls,”I tried to tell her that there was never a weasel and she argued with me, saying ‘Uh-uh! They put a weasel under my gown and it tickled my tummy!’ Hannah’s older sister started laughing. She said, ‘Excuse me, Mom, but I think Hannah is halfway right. They did put Weasel under her gown, only Weasel was really a ferret.’ ”
On June 2, 2003, Hannah graduated from high school, ten years to the day after the hit-and-run driver launched her high into the air and dragged her bike to raggedy shards of metal. Although she has a noticeable jerk to her steps and her speech is somewhat labored, Hannah has every right to walk with head held high across her high school stage to receive her diploma.
Lee’s fuzzy little white mutt is now sixteen years old. Molly started her life with Lee and Tom as an abandoned dog from the New Orleans SPCA and recently passed her yearly physical with a recommendation for continued therapy work. The opinions of the staff at Oschner Hospital are that Molly is a consummate professional who always knows who needs her special attention.
Shannon knows that Molly not only helped Hannah but also helped her continue to hope at a time of little hope. “As a mother,” says Shanon, “I will never be able to thank Lee and Molly enough. [Molly] is an angel with four legs and a tail.”