14 January 2010

Dogs are Good for the Heart

While working as a cardiologist in south Dallas, Dr. Gary Barkocy had to make numerous late-night calls to hospitals in response to ST segment elevation myocardial infarctions (STEMI), or in layman's terms, really serious heart attacks.

"I remember at 3 o'clock in the morning, I'd be like 'here we go,'" Barkocy said recently from his office at Nacogdoches Medical Center. But, now, when the interventional cardiologist hears the word STEMI, he smiles. That's because rather than referring only to a condition that brings his patients pain, these days the name is used more often in reference to a four-legged assistant that makes them smile.

"Some of our patients have had a really big change of life; they're grieving, and you wouldn't believe how a puppy dog can change that," he said.

Stemi, Barkocy's friendly black Labrador retriever, started training as a therapy dog when she was a puppy and now spends her days keeping her owner's cardiac patients calm.

"A lot of our patients will have a procedure where they have to lay flat for two to three hours; they can't move, and it gets very disturbing and distressing," he said. "But, with a puppy dog sitting there to give you kisses, or by petting a dog, they seem to do much better. We figured this would help with patient care."

Barkocy said that while Stemi does not have her certification as a therapy dog, patients still seem to love her.

"They ask for her more than they ask for me," he joked, adding that she went through therapy dog training in Dallas multiple times, and he is in the midst of working with a Lufkin trainer to get her certified.

He said when he has a patient undergoing a procedure in his office, he'll ask the patient if they would like some company. Barkocy said many times, they'll respond with "What do you mean?" And, he'll explain that the procedure will require them to lie flat for a period of time, and if they would like, he could get Stemi to sit at the end of the bed, or near them, so they can pet her while they're there.

"It's just that calming influence," he said.

[Source: Daily Sentinel]