Eva & Byrde's Story

November 15, 2019
Topics: Child Life

Eva & Byrde

It’s tough enough dealing with a sudden trip to the emergency room for your child, but there’s the added uncertainty of what to do with sisters and brothers who are with you at a very stressful time. That was the case for Simone Welch, while rushing her 8-month-old son Lucas to the Emergency Department at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. One of the many questions that day: what to do with 3-year-old Eva while at the hospital? The answer turned out to be Byrde, an English Labrador. Byrde is one of 22 therapy dogs available to Child Life Specialists to comfort family members at moments like this.

“It was awesome to see (Eva’s) reaction to a visit from Byrde,” said Simone. “She smiled and it really brightened her day and helped her at a very difficult time.”

When Eva returned home, she renamed one of her favorite stuffed bears after Byrde. Three months later, Lucas passed away and Eva held on to her bear tight. “She took that bear everywhere with her for three weeks,” Simone said. “Byrde was still helping Eva cope with a difficult time months later.”

Months after her first meeting with Byrde, Eva wanted to reconnect. Riley Child Life Specialists arranged for the reunion in the lobby of the Simon Family Tower. Eva’s eyes lit up as Byrde approached. George Parilla was holding the leash. He’s a volunteer with Paws & Think and serves as Byrde’s handler. 

“Byrde is five years old and has been doing this for about a year. I think she likes children a lot, she really connects with them,” said George. “They can do anything to her. You don’t have to worry if they pull a tail or squeeze a paw. She’s a very gentle dog.”

“It takes a very special dog to be able to come into a children’s hospital versus working with adults,” said Riley Child Life Specialist Kim Ziegler. “So, I look for dogs who are really relaxed and calm, and Byrde is just one of those dogs. It really does take a special dog to work with kids.”

For the reunion, Eva brought the stuffed bear she named Byrde. Eva was shy at first but quickly warmed up to Byrde as they eventually spread out on the floor to read a book together. In Eva’s case, it’s clear Byrde played a special role in her dealing with a difficult chapter. Now Riley researchers are taking a closer look at the impact of therapy dogs.

“Byrde is one of our dogs who is going to be part of a study we are doing in the emergency department to see if the presence of therapy dogs can decrease stress and anxiety in patients that are in the emergency department,” said Kim.

Eva’s mother says the benefit of the program has had a lasting effect. “Just noticing the stress level and the emotional heaviness that comes with having a sick loved one, and just having a therapy dog come in and really comfort that child I think is immeasurable,” said Simone. “I just feel this program is really important for siblings, not just for the children who are sick.” 

Gifts from donors make a dramatic difference in the level of care and comfort Riley Hospital is able to provide to children and their families. This holiday season you can make a gift at BeTheHopeNOW.org.  All individual gifts before midnight December 31, 2019, will be doubled by French Lick Resort.  

Riley Blogger

The Riley Blog is written and/or edited by members of the Riley Children's Foundation Communications Staff.

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