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Prisma Health Children’s Hospital honors legacy of facility dog

By Sydney Shadrix

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    GREENVILLE, South Carolina (WYFF) — Vivi, one of the eight members of the Canine F.E.T.C.H Unit at Prisma Health, is being remembered for the comfort and companionship she brought to kids facing tough times at Prisma Health Children’s Hospital.

Vivi was diagnosed with lymphoma in September 2022. In December, she lost her battle with cancer. Vivi had just celebrated her eighth birthday.

As a facility dog, Vivi worked in the radiology department and with the pediatric sedation service.

“We have lots of kids that come through our radiology department who are requiring scans,” said Taylor Stathes, the manager of Child Life and Special Programs at Prisma Heath Children’s Hospital. “If you have ever had a scan before, you know that they can be really lengthy. You have to hold really still to get great images for diagnostic purposes, and MRI’s are really loud and those are all really difficult things for kids to go through.”

Stathes says Vivi helped children through the process by modeling for them what it was like to get on the table and ride through the scanner.

“We could show them nothing was going to touch them,” Stathes said.

Vivi would also share hospital beds with kids who were getting IVs and would sometimes simply walk them into the hospital.

“Some of our kids who are frequent here in the hospital, they know what they’re walking into, and so sometimes even getting out of the car into the building–it’s difficult,’ said Stathes. “And so having a dog who you’re really familiar with, every single visit, meet you and then walk you in, you know, those are really special things.”

For Jovi Bull and her daughter Caroline, Vivi’s comforting presence eased nerves and lifted spirits for six years.

“[Caroline] met Vivi in January of 2017,” Bull said. “She had to have an MRI done of her spine, and Vivi and Taylor were there. It was love at first sight.”

Caroline was born with a severe heart defect that required open-heart surgery at twelve days old. Bull says that, in Caroline’s first year of life, they spent at least a week to two weeks at Prisma Health Children’s Hospital every month.

“Just for dehydration, feeding issues, weight gain. And down the road, you know, things just never got better,” said Bull.

In December 2017, Caroline ended up with strep pneumo in her bloodstream.

“It was a hard time,” Bull said. “We found out that she was immunodeficient, and that would require infusions every month, which meant needle sticks and IVs, and Caroline’s never been an easy stick.”

But that’s where Vivi came in.

“When we started infusions every single time they would go and stick her, you know, we’d all have to hold her down,” Bull said. “Every time during infusions, when they were trying to access her veins, she would cry out, ‘I want Vivi!’”

Caroline loved Vivi so much that a nurse surprised her with a stuffed animal that looked like Vivi.

“So, she has her own Vivi that she’ll always have with her,” Bull said.

But Caroline is not the only child who Vivi cared for and comforted.

“I’m just so grateful that I was able to share her with so many people, and it’s so evident now to hear people share their stories and to talk about how impactful she was for them,” Stathes said.

Stathes was Vivi’s handler.

“I feel so off balance without her because for six years, I had a leash in my hands coming into work, leaving work,” Stathes said. “She was my best friend.”

After two years of training, Vivi lived with Stathes, who took Vivi to and from work and to and from her different appointments each day.

She says Vivi’s legacy will be one of love and service.

“That’s what she was about,” Stathes said. “You know there wasn’t a day that she didn’t show that here. Just unconditional love and that we as humans fall short of a lot.”

She says she is now taking Vivi’s old collars and mailing them to facility dog programs across the country so dogs that are just beginning their work can be inspired by Vivi’s legacy.

“I’m looking forward to doing that and seeing pieces of her all throughout the country,” Stathes said.

As for Caroline and her mom, they know coming back to the hospital will not be the same without Vivi.

“Vivi’s always been there, and it’s going to be hard to come back,” Bull said. “It’s always going to feel empty, I think. A little lonely.”

But, Stathes said she will forever work to carry out Vivi’s legacy of love through her work in health care and with the Canine F.E.T.C.H Unit.

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