Thrive by IU Health

Patient gets her wish – A visit with her furry friends

Patient gets her wish – A visit with her furry friends

She was in failing health and had a wish. She wanted a visit from two of her faithful companions.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes,

Her voice was a whisper. She was struggling to breathe. But her nurse heard her wish. The next thing Mary Brown knew, her care team joined forces and made her wish come true.

Brown wanted to see her only home companions – a cat named “Michael,” and a dog named, “Newman.”

“She doesn’t have any local family. Her pets are everything to her,” said IU Health Medical Progressive Care Social Worker Sarah Hale. Brown, who has spent most of her life as a Humane Society volunteer, rescued the pets.

At the age of 74, she had been in and out of the hospital with issues related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer. During her recent visit she was transitioning to hospice.

“Mary is very well known to everyone on the floor because she has been in and out of the hospital the past month,” said her nurse Brooke Talhelm, who began her career with IU Health about two years ago. “Even as her physical health declined, she was present with everyone who visited her room and she always talked about going home to see her pets,” added Talhelm.

With the assistance of one of Brown’s friends, Russ Luby, the pets made a visit to Brown. On a frigid February day, Talhelm, Hale, and three medical technicians, loaded Brown and her oxygen tank into a cardiac chair. Hale provided her with a hand knitted hat and scarf and they wheeled Brown to the former ER bay of University Hospital. Extra hands were on deck to hoist blankets protecting her from the wind. Luby carried the 8-year-old cat under his jacket and the 40-pound Newman followed behind.

“It lifted her spirits immediately 70 percent,” said Luby. Since he’s known Brown, he said she’s always been partial to the animals others don’t want. “She adopted Newman because she knew no one would have him because of his evil eyes,” said Luby.

He related how Brown almost married twice but changed her mind. At her last job she worked at the Ace Hardware store on the city’s west side for a number of years. One of her fellow “employees” was a rescue cat named, “Frankie.”

When she came face to face with her pets, Brown reached for them. Newman climbed onto her lap and Brown’s face lit up. There were other smiles too and there were also tears.

“I went into nursing because I believed I could help people on their worst day,” said Talhelm, who has a brother and two sisters who are also nurses. Sometimes the days just run into each other and it was incredible to see how much brighter everyone felt for the rest of the day after seeing a whole new light in Mary. It showed us the importance of getting outside the four walls and treating their mental and emotional health, along with their physical health,” said Talhelm.

After the visit Brown was described as “giddy.” Those who know her say she is generally spunky and at one time had enough energy to walk about four miles several times a week.

“It was like she completely changed after spending just a few minutes with her pets,” said Hale. “Her breathing seemed to ease, she sat up straighter and was more animated. I also saw a change in our staff. With all the compassion fatigue, this was about taking the extra mile and it made everyone feel a little better,” said Hale.

Long after the pets left the hospital, Brown had photos hanging in her room to remind her of the visit. She shared the story with everyone who entered her room.

“She’s a sweetie with a big heart and she’ll take animals to people any day,” said Luby. “I keep telling her she better not stop at dog heaven or she’ll end up staying.”

UPDATE - March 8, 2022: Brown passed away on Sunday, February 27, 2022. You can read her obituary here.