Sprout Always Delivers a Smile

What do you do when your child is so terrified by the thought of the hospital that she won’t get out of the car? You enlist the help of Sprout, the Sacred Paws Pensacola facility dog at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital

The first time Katie’s parents tried to bring their daughter in for her MRI, they barely made it past the parking lot. Because of her autism, 19-year-old Katie has sensory and communication issues that make doctor visits a challenge.

When the family met Julia, they couldn’t have expected just how different their experience would be. Julia was ready, meeting the family at the car to ask Katie if she could help bring Sprout inside. To her parents’ surprise, Katie got out of the car without any resistance.

“Katie doesn’t express things verbally, but her memory and understanding of what’s going on are very clear. She will tell us she doesn’t want to go to the doctor.” explained her mother, Jeannine. “It was a huge change in the day for us. It made it all much more bearable and for her, even fun.”

Inside the hospital, Julia shared videos of Sprout. Katie’s body language began to change as she relaxed while petting the dog. Then came time to check in for her procedure.

Jeannine was so worried, she began to cry silent tears. Julia continued to smile and joke with Katie. Still, when the nurse reached over to take her temperature, Katie’s turned her head in fear. “How silly are we?” Julia said. “We forgot to take Sprout’s temperature!”

So the nurse took Sprout’s temperature before taking Katie’s. Next came blood pressure. When the nurse placed the cuff on Sprout instead, Katie gave a full belly laugh. Smiling, she allowed the nurse to take her blood pressure.

Now it was time to go in for the MRI.

Katie’s parents could not accompany her all the way back, but Sprout and Julia could. “Sprout says to tell you you’re doing an amazing job,” Julia said to Katie, who went to sleep with a smile on her face. Sprout returned to the waiting room to be with Katie’s parents, who were visibly concerned because of their previous experiences. Bruce said once Katie went back, Sprout knew they needed her, too. Without thinking, he found himself petting the dog.

When Katie woke up, she wasn’t anxious about where she was. All she wanted was Sprout.

“It was an awesome service the hospital provided,” Bruce said. “We don’t consider it luck that Julia’s schedule was a little bit different that morning … we believe it happened for a reason. Sacred Heart needs a lot more therapy dogs.”

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