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Dying Man Reunited with Beloved Dog Makes Complete Turnaround

By Jerry A. Kane

James Wathen, a terminally-ill patient at Baptist Health Corbin in Corbin, Kentucky, had stopped eating and had become weak and frail. His condition kept deteriorating, and he was barely able to talk. Wathen managed to whisper to a nurse his wish to see his dog, Bubba, just one more time. The 73-year-old hadn’t seen his one-eyed Chihuahua with no bottom teeth since he arrived by ambulance at the Whitley County hospital six weeks earlier.

“One of our social workers realized it was mourning the loss of the dog that was making our patient even worse and emotionally unhealthy, we pulled out all the stops and found the dog,” said Kimberly Probus, Chief Nursing Officer at Baptist Health Corbin

When time is of the essence, administrative policies can be cumbersome and time-consuming, so it’s often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. So a group of nurses decided to track down Bubba and arrange a reunion with Wathen, even though the hospital had a rule against pets.

After a series of phone calls, the nurses found out that Bubba had been turned over to the Knox-Whitley Animal Shelter and then subsequently placed in a foster home because of his age. The nurses discovered that Bubba had also recently fallen ill. He too had stopped eating about a week before they made contact with the shelter to arrange the reunion.

“The dog quit eating a week ago, which is very strange. The dog didn’t know where James was and James didn’t know where the dog was and believe it or not, they both stopped eating at about the same time,” said Mary-Ann Smyth, Knox-Whitley Animal Shelter President

The nurses arranged for the shelter to bring Bubba to the hospital Saturday, October 11.

“He was so sad at first. We had him wrapped in a baby blanket and he was shivering. The minute we got about 20 steps from this guy’s room — I kid you not — his little head went up. His eyes got real bright and he was like a different dog,” Smyth said.

Bubba’s mood changed immediately upon seeing Wathen, and Wathen began crying when he saw Bubba.

They didn’t think James was going to make it. I was 10 feet from his bed and you could barely understand him because he was so hard to hear. The nurse had to lean up right against his face to hear what he was saying,” Smyth said.

During their 30-minute reunion, Wathen gradually began to improve. He slowly perked up and his mood changed significantly as he petted and played with Bubba on his bed.

“When Bubba was handed to James he started to cry and then Bubba started to snuggle James and it makes you realize that animals are not just pets they are loved ones,” wrote Deanna Myers, Knox Whitley Animal Shelter Director, on her Facebook page.

The impact of the reunion was readily apparent. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the room,” Probus said.

“To see those two. To see James and Bubba get back together. It was heartwarming. It’s why we do what we do,” Smyth said.

The visit seemed to do wonders for Wathen. Nurses reported the next day that he seemed like a new person. When Bubba returned for a second visit on Tuesday, Wathen’s turnaround was complete. He was now sitting up and eating.

“Both are so happy to see each other and both seem to be doing better! The power of love can go along way!” the shelter posted on its Facebook page

Seeing the positive impact Bubba has had on Wathen, Baptist Health Corbin is revising its pet visitation policy to ensure Bubba will have visitation privileges.

“I hope this story will show to people the tremendous difference that animals can make in people’s lives,” Smyth said.

Hospital administrators are working to implement a pet visitation policy for similar situations now that they’ve witnessed first hand the healing power pets provide their owners.


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