Little Oscar Haskell was in intensive care with a rare brain condition when his heart rate rocketed.
Doctors told the three-year-old’s mum, Zoe Relph, to prepare for the worst as her boy was deteriorating fast and was unresponsive.
“We weren’t expecting him to pull through at all,” mum-of-three Zoe says. “He wasn’t responding at all and his heart rate was through the roof.
“He had 26 tubes into him, six brain probes drilled into his skull and he had machines keeping him alive.”
But then medics came up with a very different medication for the youngster – golden retriever Leo.
“The doctors asked would we be interested in meeting a therapy dog,” Zoe adds. “I was shocked to think of a dog in intensive care. Doctors told me to keep talking to Oscar so he could hear my voice.
"We didn’t know if he could hear us or not. But I always promised the boys we’d have a puppy.”
Recalling through tears the words she said to her son, Zoe says: “I promised him if he got through it, I’d get him a dog. That’s all I kept saying to him over and over.”
In came therapy dog Leo’s handler, Lyndsey Uglow, who placed a mat over Oscar to protect his tubes, and put Leo’s paw on Oscar’s hand.
“And then his heart rate came down,” Zoe recalls. “It was amazing. The intensive care doctors were crying, it was a pure miracle. He hadn’t moved his face, nothing was moving at all. And then he smiled.”
That was in October 2016 at Southampton Children’s Hospital and since then Oscar, now seven, has gone from strength to strength. Meanwhile, Leo is vying for an award at Crufts.
Oscar had been diagnosed with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. “It means he had an auto-immune bug which tricked his brain into attacking itself, effectively,” Zoe explains.
“He’s tried lots of different treatments but nothing compares to how much Leo has helped him.”
Since meeting Leo, the youngster improved slowly day by day and the pair have built a special relationship.
Zoe, 44, of Elmer Sands, West Sussex, also mum to nine-year-old Ollie and five-year-old Alfie, believes her son, now seven, might not have pulled through without the dog’s help.
She says: “I really think if it weren’t for Leo, Oscar would have given up. Leo never left his side after that.
“Lyndsey would have to carry him out because he wouldn’t leave the bedside, he’d sleep beside the bed. They formed this amazing bond. He’s helped us all in so many ways.
“These therapy dogs should be used all over the country.”
Oscar has brain damage from ADEM but thanks to Leo, he is out of immediate danger and is even back at school.
Leo is one of six therapy dogs at Southampton Children’s Hospital who have helped 10,000 children. The SCH therapy dog team, under the leadership of Lyndsey and Leo, provide animal assisted intervention, including paediatric intensive care, oncology, cardiology, orthopaedics, renal and surgical wards.
Leo and the gang are in the running to be crowned Child’s Champion in the Friends for Life awards at Crufts 2020, which starts today at Birmingham’s NEC.
Lead dog handler Lyndsey has witnessed children waking from sedation to the presence of the dogs. She’s also seen, like Oscar, the first smiles from patients and children taking their first steps as part of rehabilitation thanks to the pooches.
The dogs escort children to theatre to alleviate anxiety, provide distraction to those undergoing procedures and do meet-and-greets to youngsters and families in the hospital.
The amazing animals also provide support to staff.
Lyndsey says: “What Leo loves is to get to know a patient. I knew nothing of Oscar’s diagnosis or condition and it was suggested I should introduce the dog to him.
“If we can give them that little bit of magic to cling on to then that’s really great. That smile meant a lot to everybody. It’s all about keeping the child with a positive thought process.
"Leo will trot in like he owns the place. The dogs come in and they are friendly faces. They’re not there to persuade or cajole, they’re dogs.
“We’re the bridge between the healthcare team and the child.”
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The pair were seriously injured but Louise dragged herself and Wolfie out of the flames. She says: “We’ve gone through traumatic event.”
Wolfie retired with PTSD and now lives with her.
Hero Support Dog: Hearing Dog Jovi
Jovi the hearing dog has completely transformed 29-year-old teacher Graham Sage’s life.
Over five years, Graham, of Oxon, has gone from moderate hearing loss to being severe to profound.
Charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People paired him with the cocker spaniel who helps at school and at home. He says: “Jovi make me feel safer.”
Rescue Dog Hero: Syrian rescue dog Barrie
Sean Laidlaw, 32, was suffering from PTSD when he pulled Barrie the crossbreed from the rubble of a bombed school in Syria in February 2018.
That May the bomb disposal expert with the Royal Engineers returned home but they were soon reunited. He says: “It may come across that I saved Barrie’s life, but she saved mine.”
Best Friends: Ellie the crossbreed
When Hayley Byrne-Ingle was 17, her older sister took her own life three days before turning 22.
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