In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

May 11, 2017

Surgeon Operates on Stuffed Dog to Ease Young Patient’s Fears

By In the Loop

A Mayo Clinic care team recently took the time to perform a simulated surgery on a young patient’s stuffed dog to help ease his fears about his own post-operative care.

A Mayo Clinic care team recently performed a simulated surgery on a young patient’s stuffed dog to help ease the patient's fears about his own post-operative care.

For some pediatric heart surgery patients, the scariest part comes after the surgery. That was the case for a patient on Mayo Clinic's Pediatric Cardiology unit in Rochester recently. "He wasn't being very responsive to his nurses when they were trying to take his vital signs or measure his blood pressure," Sameh Said, M.D., a pediatric congenital heart surgeon, tells us. "He didn't want to participate in any of that."

The young boy's post-operative fear of "everything medical" became so strong that it got in the way of their ability to take care of him, Jessica Miller, one of the patient's nurses, tells us. "That's when I decided to enlist the help of Mayo's Child Life Program to see if they could find a way to calm him down," she tells us.

When child life specialist Mikaela Sullivan got to the patient's room, the first thing she pulled out of her bag of tricks was a medical play kit. "Based on my early observations, I knew play was going to be my 'in' with him," Sullivan tells us. "And sure enough, he really took to the kit after a while." After interacting with the patient for a "good chunk of time," Sullivan began to see a change in his demeanor. "He started to warm up," she tells us.

Miller tells us their young patient also started dropping hints about the cause of his fear. The patient had his stuffed dog with him at the hospital and told Miller his dog's heart was 'no good' and that it was going to die. "At that age, four, I knew he was really just projecting his own fears onto the dog," she says.

The patient had his stuffed dog with him at the hospital and said his dog's heart was 'no good' and that it was going to die. 

After hearing that, Miller went to find Dr. Said so she could tell him what the young boy had said. Dr. Said returned to the patient's room, telling him, "Let's fix your dog."

Dr. Said went "all out," we're told, prepping the patient's stuffed dog for surgery and mimicking the procedure he'd performed on the patient himself … right down to the last stitch. "He stitched that dog from top to bottom so its heart would be all better," Miller tells us.

Afterward, we're told the stuffed dog made a miraculous recovery, as did its owner. "When Dr. Said was done, the patient had a huge smile on his face," Miller tells us. "He was then able to be OK with us taking his blood pressure and doing all of the other things we needed to do in order to take care of him … as long as we did everything on the dog first."

To some, going to these lengths might seem extreme. For Dr. Said, Miller, Sullivan, and the rest of the patient's care team, however, it was simply business as usual. "As care providers, we're always looking to do the best things for our patients and to really make an impact in their lives," Miller tells us. "To me, this is a great example of doing just that." (We couldn't agree more.)

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Tags: Child LIfe Program, Dr. Sameh Said, Employee Stories, Jessica E. Miller, Mayo Clinic Children's Center, Mikaela Sullivan, Patient Stories, Pediatric Cardiology

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