My journey with a Labrador named Oxford

My journey with a Labrador named Oxford

Just out of a coma, and unable to make purposeful movements after suffering a life-threatening medical event, the most amazing man brought his black Labrador to my bedside in Wellington Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.

Amanda and Oxford at one of the Canine Friends Pet therapy session at The Bubble

My name’s Amanda and I want to share my journey of recovery with you. About three and a half years ago I suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm and went into a coma. I was in the ICU for three weeks and hadn’t shown any signs of responsiveness after coming out of the coma until one day the hospital arranged for a man named Rick and his dog Oxford to visit the ward.

Canine therapy is used around the world to treat people with a number of conditions and has been shown to be very effective. I’m not sure at the time if my parents and the medical team were expecting anything much to come from the visit, but we’re all really glad now that Rick and Oxford stopped by that day.

Oxford is a failed guide dog from Adelaide, who was adopted through the Guide Dog Foundation by a retired man here in Wellington named Rick. Rick registered Oxford to become a member of Canine Friends Pet Therapy, a New Zealand-wide network of people—who share their friendly well behaved dogs with patients in hospitals and residents in rest homes/hospices—and was encouraged to eventually visit the ICU. Rick and the nurse who arranged it had only heard theories about the benefits of pet therapy and wanted to see results.

Everyone thought that it was a ‘long-shot’.  Maybe there would be some sort of response from me when I touched the dog, but no-one was really expecting anything to happen. I’d been in a coma for over a week at this point and attempts to rouse me had been unsuccessful. Rick lifted Oxford up to my hospital bed and a nurse placed my hand on Oxford’s fur. After a few moments, I came around and gently started patting him.  Apparently, everyone in the room started crying (but I don’t remember that part either).

Ciarrie is another of the great dogs who comes to comfort people as part of Canine Friends pet therapy.

I spent another four and a half months in hospital learning how to do things like eat, breathe, and walk again. I eventually came home and about a month later Oxford and Rick came to my house for a pretty special visit. It was the first time I’d really (consciously) met them, and the first time Rick would ever hear my voice.

Since then we’ve caught up many times, and Rick always lets me feed Oxford heaps of treats. We’ve also done a lot of things together, like going back and visiting patients in ICU with Oxford—and we were featured in NZ Dog World magazine. Rick and Oxford are like celebrities, they’ve been on One News and even been nominated for awards. I’m lucky to have got to know them and and I’ve met the entire family (including newborn grandchildren)!

Rick still visits the ICU and other hospital wards every week. They also visit Mary Potter Hospice and they’ll be back with the Wellbeing team on 12 October in The Bubble to help with end of Trimester anxiety.

I continue to recover every day, and I can’t help but credit the extraordinary care and support I’ve received throughout the last three and a half years. Important figures like Rick, Oxford, and my friends and family, give me the constant pushes I need to help me with my rehab. Thanks so much also to Disability Services here at the University, who have done so much for me.

My dad still won’t let me have a dog but I’m working on it. My cat visited me in hospital though, so she deserves a shout out. I’m really grateful for my canine friend, Oxford. He may have failed guide dog school, but he’s pretty perfect. 

Amanda Yong is a final-year student studying for a BSc in Neuropsychology.

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