Special Volunteer Brings Smiles to NNMC Patients
Story Number: NNS090712-16
By Cat DeBinder, National Naval Medical Center Public Affairs
BETHESDA, Md. (NNS) -- The National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) has a very unique volunteer on its staff; what makes her stand out is she has four legs and a tail.
Laura Lee is a 3-three-year old golden retriever, NNMC's official therapy dog. Prior to her employment at NNMC, she was involved with the Southwestern Guide Dog Program, Paws for Patriots, a division that trains dogs to be companion guides to wounded service members.
Paws for Patriots had provided a dog to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and were interested in expanding the program to NNMC. Capt. David Bitonti, director for surgical services was involved in this placement and thought of his secretary, Patricia Barry, right away as being an appropriate caregiver to Laura Lee.
"Dr. Bitonti knew I'd lost my own golden retriever two years earlier and asked me if I'd be interested in taking care of the National Naval Medical Center's therapy dog," said Barry. "I agreed and took ownership November 27, 2007, one day short of the anniversary of my other dog's death."
In the 18 months Laura Lee has been at Bethesda she has kept up a very busy schedule. She works three days a week in physical therapy where she greets patients at the front entrance. She also works with the chaplains, healthcare mediators and other staff members.
Lt. Cmdr. Dan Stallard, head chaplain in Bethesda's pastoral care department, believes pets have a positive effect on the health and well-being of people.
Stallard recalled a severely ill patient on the ward who had two dogs that she missed terribly. The patient's doctor asked him to bring Laura Lee to her room.
"We put Laura Lee up on the chair next to the patient's bed so she could pet her," Stallard said. "There was an instantly visible affect on the patient and her facial expression."
Laura Lee lifts the spirits of all those who come in contact with her.
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