The Doctor Is In

Winter Haven Hospital Therapy Dog Zora Is the Perfect Medicine

Being in the hospital is scary. Being in the hospital for cancer treatment is even scarier. In fact, there are few things in life scarier than cancer. One local hospital has a team member specifically dedicated to helping to ease that fear and discomfort. Her legs are furry and sometimes she has bad breath, but Zora is changing the lives of patients and staff alike. 

Pet therapy is hardly a new thing. In recent years, it has grown in popularity across the country and more and more people, with a variety of diagnoses, are benefiting from the healing power of pets. BayCare’s Winter Haven Hospital is among those hospitals using pets to help their patients heal, specifically in the Cassidy Cancer Center.

Dr. Kamal Sharma is a medical oncologist at Winter Haven Hospital. Not only does she believe in the effectiveness of pet therapy, but she also looks forward to Zora’s visits herself. She says when Zora comes “the room just lights up.” In fact, Sharma confesses that Zora has helped even her through some difficult days.

When a person gets a diagnosis of cancer, there is often a visible change that happens. They may try to stay positive, but the weight of that cancer diagnosis weighs heavily. This is understandable and even natural. Sharma says when Zora enters the room, you can look around and see that weight lifting from patients. As Zora visits with one patient, you can see the anticipation and excitement in the face of the next one. They can hardly wait for their turn to visit with Zora.

When a person is diagnosed with cancer, this often becomes a label by which they identify and even define themselves. These patients often come to think of themselves not as the person they were before the diagnosis, but as this new and scary diagnosis. 

When Zora enters the room, all that changes. Sharma says that when patients spend time with Zora, their personalities begin to shine once more. No longer are they simply the woman struggling with breast cancer or the man with colon cancer. No longer do they wear the label of their diagnosis as if it were a name tag. At that moment, they remember who they were before the diagnosis and they begin to realize that person is still there. Sharma says there is almost a visible transformation as the patients open up and begin to show who they really are. 

Zora allows the staff to connect with who they are. Nurses and other caregivers can build emotional walls between themselves and the people they care for. On some level, this is healthy and even necessary. However, sometimes this can hinder the ability to connect with patients. Zora breaks through those walls, helping the staff to connect with patients in a way that truly makes them partners in the journey toward healing.

It is important that physicians and other staff be strong and that patients view them as such. The strength of the staff is often what the patient needs to stay strong themselves. At the same time, it is also important that patients are able to connect with the doctors and staff on a personal level. When patients see Sharma and the other staff interacting with Zora, it helps the patient to view them as people. This can help the patients to remember that they, too, can be strong.

Beyond the impact that Zora has on the patients, Sharma says that Zora is an encouragement for her as well. The cancer center is a very busy place. Between seeing patients, keeping up with the ones currently receiving treatment, and providing guidance for the nursing staff the burden can be great. In those moments, Sharma says that Zora provides a much-needed pause. These moments allow Sharma to disconnect from the hustle and bustle just long enough to reconnect with her own humanity. 

When asked to describe the impact Zora has at the Cassidy Cancer Center, Sharma says, “When you see a small child, or a balloon, or a dog, or take a trip to the aquarium you can’t help but feel young and optimistic. That’s what Zora does for our patients.”

t Medicine

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