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Cardinal Glennon support dog handler getting creative to stay in touch with sick children

Social distancing has been especially hard on children in the hospital who rely on regular visits from a trusted, furry friend.

ST. LOUIS — These are tough times for everyone.

But social distancing has been especially hard on children in the hospital who rely on regular visits from two trusted friends.

So, Abbie Hedgpeth and Thor came up with some doggone creative ways to stay connected.

If Thor’s face won't cheer you up, maybe nothing will. He’s a three-year-old lab whose day job since last August is to spend time with very sick children. These children have to have some very serious treatments at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center.

"Before I had Thor, I don't think I knew how big of an impact he would make,” said Hedgpeth, a Canine Assisted Intervention Specialist in the Child Life program at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital.

Thor built an amazing bond with a very anxious young heart transplant patient. Thor was literally the only living being that patient wanted to spend time with while in the hospital.

Credit: Abbie Hedgpeth
Thor snuggles under the blankets in a hospital bed with one of his favorite patients.

"We walk in the room,” Abbie remembered, “(Thor) gets up in bed with this patient and laid there for literally three hours straight. Under the blankets, and he was calm, and the patient said ‘This was just what I needed.’"

But because of coronavirus, these powerful moments have been put on pause.

Now, Abbie and Thor are looking for other ways to help kids on their hospital journey.

The two recently staged a fashion show on an inpatient ward at Cardinal Glennon, with Thor walking the catwalk, dressed in his Blues jersey and a shark costume.

Credit: Abbie Hedgpeth
Thor, wearing his Blues jersey, hangs out with a patient during his fashion show

"We had to get creative with our interventions,” Abbie said, “and let the patients know that we are still here for them and he is still supporting them in every way possible"

They're doing Facetime visits. Giving patients little stuffed animal Thors to hug while hanging out with him virtually.

Credit: Abbie Hedgpeth
A patient at SSM Cardinal Glennon hangs out with his Thor stuffed animal

"The kids love it,” says Abbie. “It's something different, they think it's really cool to see Thor’s office and his bed."

Sometimes just videos of Thor dancing, a look at his puppy pictures, or a personal message put a smile on patient’s faces.

But when you're a kid and not feeling well, nothing replaces a face to face conversation with a friend who gets you.

Credit: Abbie Hedgpeth
Thor working his magic with a patient at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital

"We're definitely trying to make lemonade out of lemons here,” Abbie said. "That will be a great day when things get back to normal."

Abbie said Thor misses the human touch of his patients.

These days he gets very excited just seeing people, because he’s missing all those pats on the head.

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