AHS Staff Harness Horsepower for Healing

‘That visit went a long way in helping me get better’

Story by Janet Mezzarobba

Jan Eaton has spent most of her life caring for animals.

A dedicated animal advocate, the Strathmore woman has spent much of her 51 years caring for and enriching the lives of not only her own animals but those she’s cared for in her ‘doggy daycare.’

But after being rushed to the Peter Lougheed Centre last December with a near-fatal blood clot in her lung, the tables were turned when her beloved horse, Prince, came to her aid, providing strength and devotion to Eaton when she needed it most.

“My mom has spent most of her life caring for animals,” says Heather Thornley, Eaton’s 26-year-old daughter. “So when the suggestion was made by mom’s nurses for Prince, her horse, to visit her at the hospital, I knew that was exactly what she needed to lift her spirits.”

ns-horse-storyRegistered nurse Kimberly Pennell, site manager during the day of the reunion, also loved the idea. She was one of the many intensive care unit (ICU) staff members who worked to make the visit happen.
“Jan was going through a long and difficult stay,” Pennell says.

“She had been struggling with depression as she worked through the difficult process of rehabilitation, and her entire care team wanted to do something to cheer her up. Some of her nurses had noticed photos of Jan and her horse – and that’s when the seed was planted.”

With the help of staff from ICU, Critical Care and Protection Services, plans were made with the patient’s family to have the horse brought to the Peter Lougheed Centre.

“I knew that seeing her horse, Prince, would mean the world to her,” says Thornley. “Prince always brings such joy to her, and a visit from him would encourage her to get better so she could get out and ride again.”
Despite -20 C temperatures, arrangements were made for the 16-year-old quarter horse cross to see Eaton.

“We often have visits from dogs and other small pets but, from what I know, we have never had a horse come to the site,” says Pennell.

The AHS Pet Policy allows domesticated animals to visit patients in hospital, providing there are no safety or health concerns.

“We bundled Jan up and wheeled her chair out to the parking lot where Prince and her family were waiting,” Pennell recalls.

Eaton, who remains in hospital, remembers how happy she was when she saw Prince.

“I was absolutely thrilled when I saw Prince’s ears perk up as he saw me peeking out from under my blankets,” Eaton says.

“People refer to him as my ‘other man.’ He came over, tried to kiss me, nuzzle my face and, at one point, he even tried to rip the blankets off me. I can’t tell you how happy it made me to see him. Seeing him helped me begin to feel like myself again, and I know that visit went a long way in helping me get better and out of ICU.

“That visit helps me through each day as it reminds me of the freedom I’m going to feel when I get up and ride him again.”

Her daughter agrees.

“I am so thankful to the staff for helping make this happen,” Thornley says.

“Allowing my mom to see Prince broke up the monotony of needles, treatments and beeping machines and reminded her there is life outside of her hospital bed. I am so grateful to everyone who helped make this happen as I know it has helped her get to where she is today. It’s a day I, too, will never forget.”