Thrive by IU Health

June 01, 2021

They rescued her Pets; Patient Says they saved her Life too

They rescued her Pets; Patient Says they saved her Life too

She was at a low point and ended up in ER. The only thing she had on her mind when she was alert enough to talk was the safety of her pets.

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

She arrived in the ER in the middle of the night. She was in a coma and needed to be intubated. Patricia Gundersen said she was at a low point. But now she is sitting up in a hospital bed with a smile on her face.

A big reason for that smile – she knows her pets are safe.

“When she was awake and alert enough to talk, we told her what happened. She didn’t remember anything. The first thing she said is ‘where is my cat?’ ‘Where is my dog,’” said IU Health Medical Intensive Care Nurse Kelly McKnight Friday. At this point, Gundersen had been hospitalized for three days and the animals were in a motel room – her temporary home.

Gundersen sits on a hospital bed smiling at a photo of her dog

Friday worked with IU Health Medical Intensive Care Social Worker Sarah Hale and the wheels were put in motion to rescue Gundersen’s pets. Hale contacted “Street Outreach Animal Response Initiative,”( S.O.A.R.) and it wasn’t long before the cat and dog were taken to safety. S.O.A.R. serves the Indianapolis community by working with people experiencing homelessness or crisis who also have pets. The primary focus is on securing the human-animal bond and improving access to veterinary care & human services for those who are typically underserved.

In this case, the beneficiaries of the charitable organization were a 3-year-old mini Aussie named, “Milo,” and a 15-year-old cat named, “Slade.” Gundersen had homed both animals since they were old enough to adopt.

A former resident of Florida, Gundersen worked for years in various jobs including a cashiering, factory work, and housekeeping. She moved to Indiana four years ago to be closer to family. A few months ago, she began living on the streets and in local motels.

“My pets mean everything to me. They are all I have. I feel like they were rescued and my life was saved too,” said Gundersen, 65.

“When she told me about her pets I knew it was emergent and that if she was worried about her pets, she wouldn’t heal as quickly. She didn’t have family to help. We were it,” said Friday, who has been with IU Health for four years.

Milo and Gundersen go for a walk

On S.O.A.R.’s Facebook page a post under the heading, “Partnerships through Crisis,” Reads: “The nurses and social worker at the hospital were the frontlines of us being able to help, and take action. The social worker absolutely recognized the urgency of the situation. The nurses were all over it, making sure things were well understood and there was a foundation for us to help.” The post continues to describe two traumatized pets that are now recovering in their temporary home while their owner focuses on healing.

“So many of our patients are at the end of life, or having a severe life disrupting illness, that if a stressor outside of their direct medical care comes up, that stressor is important enough to the patient to affect their medical care,” said Stacey Harvey, Manager of Clinical Operations in the Medical Critical Care Unit at IU Health University Hospital. “For this patient, her stress over her animals was immediately affecting her health. In order to provide the best care possible, our team has to consider all of what is going on in that patient’s life. It truly brings the idea of ‘what matters most’ to the care of the patient,” said Harvey.

“I believe these team members’ kindness highlights how they think of patients. They see our patients as an individual in a bed with a whole life outside of our walls,” she added. “They see them as people, not just patients. And of course, our whole unit is just a bunch of softies for animals. We couldn’t leave them abandoned anymore than we could neglect other family members.”