Harlow’s Evie gets home from hospital following help from Pets as Therapy

Health / Tue 26th Dec 2023 at 11:26am

A TEENAGE Addenbrooke’s patient who came close to death after a serious infection is home following help from a Labradoodle called Poppy reports the Cambridge Independent.

Evie Evans, 13, was unable to walk after significant muscle weakening following two months of heavy sedation. Now she is back on her feet after what’s thought to be the country’s first NHS paediatric physiotherapy project involving a dog.

The project started as a three-month pilot in the summer and is now permanent. It follows a successful trial with adult patients, Addenbrooke’s volunteers, and Pets as Therapy (PAT) which launched last year. Working with PAT dogs has been shown to motivate patients to stretch themselves further during their physiotherapy.

Mum Sara, who watched Evie’s progress over several weekly sessions at the hospital gym, said: “Poppy the PAT dog got Evie to do things she wouldn’t have done otherwise – we call it ‘Poppy power’! It was because Poppy was there that Evie first stood with her at the parallel bars. Eventually she found the courage to hold Poppy’s lead and walk along. It was an amazing moment for everyone.’’

Evie, who has Down syndrome, was taken by PaNDR – the specialist ambulance for children who are critically ill – from Harlow to Addenbrooke’s in July. She had a serious respiratory infection with complications and needed to be heavily sedated to help her recover.

After an eight-week battle to save her, critical care clinicians were able to bring Evie around, and start the long process of getting her back to health. She was hoisted out of bed, so she could build up her muscles and learn to walk again.

The teenager joined the pilot project led by paediatric physiotherapist Jonny Littlewood and his team, working with PAT volunteer, Lisa Smart, and nine-year-old Poppy, who for three years has been cheering up patients elsewhere in the hospital.

Evie, who was one of the first patients to benefit, started her treatment sitting with Poppy, gently throwing a ball, and reaching out with treats, or a pat. Eventually, she took a walk with the help of Jonny, Lisa, Poppy, and the parallel bars.

Physiotherapist Jonny Littlewood said: “Poppy is an endearing curly-haired Labradoodle and is such a happy girl, bringing with her an infectious energy. Poppy adapts to each child, and is able to push patients harder to achieve their therapy goals more quickly.’’

Owner Lisa added: “It is an absolute privilege to be able to go into hospital and work with children in need, as well as adults.”

Sara explained: “When Evie first got to Addenbrooke’s, doctors decided they had to intubate her. She had parainfluenza and she ended up getting cellulitis at one point too. At one stage she was on the maximum oxygen. They proned her even though they don’t normally prone children. They were at the end of everything they could do.

“However, eventually Evie pulled it back and we could not be more proud of what she has achieved – or grateful to those who have helped. That includes Poppy.”

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