Helping children cope with surgery

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When three-year-old Sammy Hoover left a hospital in Georgia after a surgery, he had a companion with him—a stuffed animal puppy. The toddler is one of more than 900 children receiving a Josh kit this year prior to undergoing surgery at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, Georgia.

Designed by Knoxville veterinarian Dr. Randy Lange, the Josh kit includes a plush Golden Retriever and a hardcover book, "I'll be O.K.," whose main character is a dog that goes through surgery. A person reads the book to a child who is about to undergo surgery, and then the child carries the dog through all the tests and procedures they undergo while they are at the hospital.

Dr. Steven Whatley of Bush Animal Clinic in Albany introduced the Josh Project to Phoebe hospital. After learning of the project at a veterinary conference, Dr. Whatley began offering the kits at his clinic. Clients are given the option of taking the kits home, or donating them to Phoebe, which is the local hospital in the Children's Miracle Network. This alliance of children's hospitals is sponsoring the project, along with the AVMA and the American Legion Family.

"It is true joy to see a child's face when we enter the room with Josh," says Sonia Wiggins, director of Outpatient Surgery at Phoebe.

Wiggins was so taken with the project that she requested the local Children's Miracle Network affiliate and the Phoebe Foundation to purchase enough kits so that every child going through surgery could have one. A group of physicians within the hospital, who touted the beneficial health effects of the human-animal-bond, were instrumental in getting the program funded.

"It is amazing how Josh helps our children. And, the book is a good tool for a mom or dad to use to help prepare a child for surgery," Wiggins said. "It helps explain away some fears, for both the child and the parent."

Recently, Sammy had the pleasure of meeting the real Josh, a Golden Retriever owned by Dr. Lange. Dr. Lange and Doug Lesher, co-founders of Joshco LLC, travel across the country visiting Children's Miracle Network hospitals.

The success of the project varies by state. In Georgia, for example, the project is having success, in part, because the Georgia VMA is actively promoting it.

"The Josh and Friends program illustrates the importance and strength of the human-animal bond that veterinarians see every day," said Beth Monte, GVMA executive director. "One person, with minimal effort, can make a huge difference. Simply putting a poster and a Josh kit in your reception area will generate donations from your clients as well as promoting a positive image for you. When you and your staff see a Josh puppy in the hands of an ill child and a smile of relief on a parent's face, you immediately see the win-win-win situation."

To learn more about the Josh Project, visit