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PAT Dog Poppy helps critically ill Evie in NHS first

Thirteen-year-old Evie Evans, a patient at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, was unable to walk after significant muscle weakening following two months of heavy sedation. However, now she’s back on her feet after what’s thought to be the country’s first NHS paediatric physiotherapy project involving a dog – a PAT Dog called Poppy.

Working with PAT Dogs has been shown to motivate patients to stretch themselves further during their physiotherapy. Evie’s mum Sara, who watched her daughter’s progress over several weekly session at the hospital gym, says: “Poppy the PAT Dog got Evie to do things she wouldn’t have done otherwise – we call it Poppy power!”

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 plucky teenager joined the pilot project led by paediatric physiotherapist Jonny Littlewood and his team, with PAT Volunteer, Lisa Smart, and nine-year-old Poppy, who for three years have 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. To encourage Evie to take those first steps, her physio team also promised to perform Beyonce’s iconic dance to Single Ladies – a promise they later fulfilled to the delight of Evie.

Her courage blossomed and, despite many challenges, Evie is now at home and will walk to the dinner table this Christmas Day with the aid of her sticks and loving family.

The paediatric physiotherapy team have helped nearly 40 young patients with brain injuries, broken bones, developmental impairments, diseases and muscle weakness like Evie’s.

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

Volunteer Lisa, who loves visiting children and adults at the hospital, adds: “Sometimes they are at their darkest times, and to put a smile on a child’s face ­– and that of their parents, nurses and doctors ­– is an absolute privilege.”



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