HOUSTON — The first therapy dog at Texas Children’s Hospital is retiring at the end of this week and she will be missed by the young patients who looked forward to her visits.
Elsa the golden retriever has been a comforting presence for thousands of kids facing difficult health battles. For the last several years, she and her handler, Sarah Herbek, have focused on helping cancer patients.
Elsa developed a special connection with 14-year-old Christiana Vigil, who recently underwent a bone marrow transplant.
"They're very hard on her body, they make her sick. The one thing – when we come for those treatments once a week – that's our thing. When you're done, you can see Elsa and Sarah," Christiana's mom Keri told us.
Keri said the therapy dog was often the only thing that helped Christiana feel better.
“Elsa would lay up in the bed with her when she couldn’t get out of bed. Christiana was able to pet her and find some comfort in it," Keri said. "It would make her smile. There were days when only Elsa and Sarah could bring a smile to her face."
Sarah said Elsa has visited thousands of patients during her career.
"Elsa just comes into their room and will hop on the bed. It immediately changes the feel of the room and makes kids feel safer, which in turn helps them cope with whatever they're going through in the hospital," Sarah told us.
Many are fighting for their lives. And Elsa's visits allow patients to just be kids for a moment.
"She always makes my day better," Christiana said.
Doctors and nurses may be the ones providing life-saving treatments, but so many families will be forever grateful to Elsa and Sarah for every smile, every hug.
"As a mom, I could call her and say, 'Hey, we have to do this. We have to do that.' She would say, 'I'll be right there,' and she comes" Keri said.
After six years of service and more than 12,000 hospital visits, Sarah says it’s time for Elsa to retire and get a much needed break.
“I think it’s really important -- these dogs give us so much of themselves -- that we pay attention to them and their needs. She’s telling me she’s done. She deserves years of happy retirement,” Sarah said.
Job well done, Elsa.