Texas Children’s Hospital’s First Therapy Dog and Her Child Life Specialist to Retire After Nearly 2,000 Patient Visits and More Than 12,000 Bedside Interventions

With a generous donation from Judy and Bobby Shackouls in October 2016, Texas Children’s Hospital first brought Elsa, now 7 years old, to patients through the newly created “PAWSitive” Play program. Since that time, the program — launched by Herbek and Elsa and the first of its kind at Texas Medical Center — has expanded to Texas Children’s other two hospitals in Katy and The Woodlands, with five additional dogs for animal-assisted therapy, including Bailey, Pinto, Cohen, Pluto and Angus. In all, thanks to substantial funding from dedicated donors, the program’s therapy dogs have visited tens of thousands of pediatric patients, generating countless smiles from those most in need of encouragement.

“Texas Children’s Hospital is one of the best children’s hospitals in the world and is loved by patients and families in large part for the dedication and expertise of its caregivers — and that includes those with both two and four legs,” said Mark A Wallace, president and CEO of Texas Children’s Hospital. “Under the expert and passionate guidance of Child Life Specialist Sarah Herbek, Elsa has encouraged, encouraged and positively helped countless patients, staff and visitors in ways few others could. I would like to personally thank Sarah for her impactful work partnered with Elsa for many years; I’m proud to celebrate their lasting, life-changing legacy at Texas Children’s.”

Herbek and Elsa dedicate the last three weeks of their service at Texas Children’s Hospital to pediatric cancer patients, sitting with them, keeping them calm and bringing joy to their stressful days.

“Over the past five and a half years with Elsa by my side, I have been inspired by the thousands of patients and families we have met and I am so grateful to have become a part of their travels,” said Herbek. “I’ve witnessed an incredible resilience that I often wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t seen it for myself. There really is nothing I’m more proud of than the growth and impact of the PAWSitive Play program. In years to come I hope that our wonderful patients and families will remember their time at Texas Children’s Hospital and remember that in their darkest days, the love of a golden retriever made their experience just that little bit easier.”

Of the inspiring milestones Herbek observed with Elsa’s help, she recalls a few as particularly relevant:

Witnessing a father crying tears of joy at the sight of his child smile for the first time in weeks at Elsa’s presence; Motivating a child in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) to stand for the first time after surgery when other encouragements failed; Hear a mother share how she believes her child graduated from PICU because of the daily dose of unconditional love she received from a dog; and Watching a child without the strength or motivation to smile or sit up, do this to get another chance to get into bed with Elsa.

To celebrate the many ways Elsa and Herbek have positively impacted the lives of thousands of patients, Texas Children’s is hosting a celebration of Elsa with pediatric cancer patients and their families, in addition to an honorary meeting honoring Elsa and Herbek with the Texas Children’s Hospital leadership team. .

“Our daughter has been in the hospital for many months since her diagnosis, with the most recent being 70 straight days, including Christmas and New Year’s,” said Keri Vigil, mother of Christiana, a 14-year-old patient at Texas Children’s Hospital, who is a frequent patient. benefited from the comfort provided by Elsa and Herbek during her hospitalization and recent bone marrow transplant. “There were times when Sarah and Queen Elsa were the only things that brought a smile to Christiana’s face. They will forever hold a special place in our hearts and we will be eternally grateful for everything they did for our daughter.”

Child Life Specialists and dogs in the Texas PAWSitive Play Program for Children play an integral role in patient health care teams by boosting children’s moods and increasing their self-confidence, as well as reducing their anxiety, perception of pain and sense of isolation. . Specially trained to work with Texas Children’s doctors, nurses, and physical, occupational, and speech therapy teams, the dogs provide targeted interventions to patients from the bedside to the cancer and hematology center, emergency center and other patient areas.

Herbek and Elsa are part of a larger, truly inspiring and impactful Animal-Assisted Therapy program at Texas Children’s Hospital, expertly led by Mary Tietjens, Deputy Director of Clinical Support Services. Additional Child Life Specialists and dogs from animal therapy centers who daily brighten the days of Texas Children’s patients, families and staff include: Adair Wignet and Bailey, Shelby Bonnet and Pinto, CJ Canlas and Cohen (Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands), Hanna Kuhn and Pluto, and Meg Gustafson and Angus (Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus).

Individuals interested in donating to Texas Children’s Hospital’s Animal-Assisted Therapy Program can do so by visiting https://texaschildrens.org/pawsitiveplaysupport.

About Texas Children’s Hospital
Texas Children’s Hospital, a not-for-profit healthcare organization, is committed to creating a healthier future for children and women around the world by leading the way in patient care, education and research. Consistently ranked as the best children’s hospital in Texas, and among the top in the nation, Texas Children’s has received widespread recognition for its expertise and breakthroughs in children’s and women’s health. The hospital includes the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute; the Feigin Tower for pediatric research; Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women, a comprehensive obstetrics/gynecology facility focusing on high-risk births; Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus, a community hospital in suburban West Houston; and Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands, the first hospital dedicated to pediatric care for communities north of Houston. The organization also created Texas Children’s Health Plan, the nation’s first HMO for children; Texas Children’s Pediatrics, the largest pediatric primary care network in the country with offices in Houston and Austin; Texas Children’s Urgent Care clinics that specialize in after-hours care specifically tailored to children; and a global health program that channels care to children and women around the world. Texas Children’s Hospital is affiliated with Baylor College of Medicine. For more information, visit www.texaschildrens.org. For the latest news, visit the online newsroom and Twitter at twitter.com/texaschildrens.

SOURCE Texas Children’s Hospital

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