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The Love of a Dog – Canine Therapy at SWMC

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Beginning June 1, patients at Sonoma West Medical Center can expect a whole new level of caring, and the difference will be made with the start of a new canine therapy program.  Coordinated by Deborah Ard, R.N., the canine therapy program is something the staff has wanted to implement since the beginning.  “We’ve already become accustomed to having Dr. Gude’s wonderful dog, Charlie, here a couple of times a week.  The patients and the staff just love seeing Charlie pad down the corridors.  I wanted to do something that was a real program.” IMG_5547

For most people, visiting a hospital can be both stressful and taxing on their emotions.  No matter how nice your surroundings are – for a hospital – you are most likely feeling worried, lonely, possibly tired and stressed from your condition.  Now imagine a sweet dog with golden fur and its smiling human ‘handler’ appear in your doorway offering you a visit.  You spend some time stroking the dog’s fur, while he rests his head on your lap.  You start to feel a little less stressed and a little more optimistic as each stroke lessens your worry and discomfort.

This feeling of ease is just what the team at Sonoma West Medical Center and a canine therapy program called Creating Wellness want to create for patients and their families. Creating Wellness is a non-profit therapy dog program; founded 30 years ago by Roz Morris. The program trains volunteers and their dogs to work together to provide comfort to patients and family members in hospital settings.  “I put this program together because I wanted to make a difference in patients’ lives, with the love of a dog,” explained Morris.

Roz has established relationships with 38 care facilities in Sonoma and Marin Counties to ‘Create Wellness’ for the patients…and to help facilitate healing, using all the unconditional love that a dog has to give. With this mission statement in mind, Roz began the journey to re-establish this program at Sonoma West Medical Center.  The therapeutic benefits of dogs are becoming more of a regular occurrence in hospitals, care facilities, university campuses, and even airports.  Studies have shown that dogs are a depression antidote, lower blood pressure and help people maintain positive attitudes.  With this in mind, it is the hope that these therapy dogs help those recovering in hospitals, heal faster and healthier.  Petting a dog, or any animal, can lower blood pressure and ease stress.

IMG_5540For the next few weeks of May, Rody, Gabi and one other therapy dog will be taking courses with Deb Ard, learning just how to interact with patients, their families and even the staff at the hospital.  Rody is a golden labradoodle and Gabi is a grey labradoodle.  Both dogs have a combined 17 years of canine therapy experience between them.  Gabi has been a certified therapy dog for one year; however, she has seven years of uncertified experience providing unconditional love and healing to people in various care facilities, according to her owner Liz Hagen.  Liz and Gabi plan to work together in the waiting rooms to ease stress of family members awaiting news.  Gabi will work closely with supporting Sonoma West Medical Center staff as well, to ease their stress.

Rody, an energetic dog, has been working as a therapy dog since he was a pup, providing stress reducing snuggles at a bigger hospital, until his handler Rick recently decided to bring him to Sonoma West Medical Center.  While I was meeting Rody, a young patient walked by with her nurse, wearing a hospital gown and pulling her IV pole beside her.  Without hesitation, Rody trotted right up to her, tail wagging to offer his head for a pat.  She giggled as she gently leaned over to run her fingers through his fur.  It was easy to see that this chance encounter with Rody left the patient feeling uplifted as she walked away smiling.

For more about Creating Wellness, please visit:

Small Hospital, Top Quality Care…and Cinnamon Rolls!


A family of eight gathers together, in room 118 of a small hospital, ready to say goodbye to their matriarch, Simone.  She is 98 years old, and has suffered a stroke two days before.  The mood is solemn and quiet. In an effort to comfort the family, the hospital chef prepares refreshments and a staple comfort food, freshly baked cinnamon rolls.  The family greatly appreciated this kind gesture during this difficult time.  The delicious, fragrant aroma of the cinnamon rolls wafted into the room and Simone seemed to stir from her deep sleep.


The famous Cinnamon Rolls!

There is no confirmed correlation between the delicious smell of the cinnamon rolls, and Simone’s subsequent awakening, but it was clear at that point, that she had decided to hold on.  The next day, she was awake and alert and sitting upright in bed, enjoying a delicious breakfast, eager to go home.  Days later, she is still improving but not after a most stressful start.

Simone’s journey began with a trip in an ambulance to the hospital with signs and symptoms of a
possible stroke.  Although her family requested that she be brought to Sonoma West Medical Center, the ambulance saw it fit to take her to Memorial Hospital because of its Primary Stroke Center. Unfortunately, Memorial was extremely busy and crowded.  Simone was almost lost in the shuffle of a hectic emergency room; being moved from bay to bay and then ultimately to a hallway.  Twenty-four hours later, the families’ second request to have Simone moved was arranged.  Upon her arrival to SWMC, Simone was welcomed warmly and quickly, due to her condition, by the hospital “family.”

Two weeks later, I met with Simone’s daughter, Mai, and her husband, Xuan, in the SWMC Café. It was a rainy Friday afternoon.  They both greeted me with warm smiles and enthusiasm.  “It was a very happy drive coming back here,” Mai stated.  I was surprised at this joyful statement, because unfortunately hospitals tend to carry a negative connotation.  However, sitting with Mai and Xuan, and listening to their story, would change anyone’s perspective.  They explained that despite Mai’s mother’s health scare; they had fond memories of their experience with Sonoma West Medical Center and its staff.  Dr. Denno, whom was Simone’s primary doctor and is one of Sonoma West’s Hospitalists, diagnosed and treated Simone’s stroke.  While she recovered from her stroke, Dr. Denno took it upon herself to bring Simone ice cream everyday before she left work.  Even in Simone’s decline in her early days at the hospital, Dr. Denno called the family every hour with a progress report on her health.  “Dr. Denno’s diagnosis was spot on,” Xuan said, “Mom is recovering so well.”

As Simone continued to improve, the hospital’s quality of care never faltered.  Mai described the hospital, as “from top to bottom, all the staff was amazing.”

Simone is now recovering at a post-acute care facility where she continues to rebuild her strength, with her family by her side.  Mai and her husband are so thankful for the level of care Simone received, they have committed to being public advocates for the hospital so that other families may experience the unconditional level of care and support that they did.

At the end of our interview, Xuan and Mai asked each other to come up with a tag line for the hospital. After throwing out a few ideas, they both agreed on, “small hospital, top quality care.”


Alyssa Soares

STELLAR Hospital


Well, I certainly never expected to be one of the 129 visitors taking advantage of the new Emergency Room during the opening week of Sonoma West Medical Center- but life is messy. After having a migraine for six days and not being able to keep anything down, I was very dehydrated. I had seen my doctor twice that week, and her partner said he had never seen me so dehydrated. They said if I was still dehydrated in 24 hours I would need to get an IV.

The next afternoon my migraine was only about a five down from a s
even, but I had stroke symptoms on my left side. That happens to me about once every six to eight weeks so I called the office to see if he could do the IV there. I was told I needed to go to the shiny new ER at, Sonoma West Medical Center. I really did NOT want to do that, but I went anyway.

Asian Handsome Man in bed with tablets and water suffering insomnia, hangover and headache

My experience was STELLAR. I was still in their electronic records from the old Palm Drive, so check-in was a breeze. A charming young nurse escorted me to a dark, “Migraine Room,” brought me a warm blanket, and gave me a pillow for under my knees.

My nurses were right on top of things. There was a small misunderstanding about an allergy drug, but because she double checked it before she put the arm band on, we caught it and she just made a new one with the right information- so no harm done.

Turns out, I needed TWO IV bags, so I was there for a long time. They gave me pain meds and Phenergan for the constant nausea. However, this time I didn’t have to get the shots in my hips, I got them in the portals of my IV so I didn’t feel a thing! We arrived there about 5:30 and left about 10:45. Instead of filling out all the forms at the front desk, I was back in my comfy dark room. I just had to initial and sign. It was quick and painless. None of the staff had their eye on the clock, none were sneaking French Fries before taking care of patients and all of them were 100% present. I have seen a number of ERs in my 71 years, and this one could give lessons in how it should be done.

Nobody wants to go to a hospital, but if the need arises, you can be assured that you will receive quality care at Sonoma West Medical Center. They have hired top notch physicians and nursing staff. The food is prepared using local, organic and seasonal products. They have a top- of-the-line Mammogram machine that takes the best pictures ever of breast tissue. It cuts way back on false positives, even in the densest breast tissue.

So, although you and yours may never need the services provided by SWMC, you should sleep much better tonight knowing that if you should have an emergency, this tiny facility is more than equipped to handle whatever comes up. They are truly a blessing for our community and I for one, am grateful to, Richard Powers MD, and Dan Smith, and so many others who have given so much to keep this dream alive and well. Congratulations one and all for a job well done!

Your Story Isn’t Over Yet – Project Semicolon


Actions speak louder then words.  This common proverb can be found in many languages, meaning that what you do is more significant then what youSemicolon Project say. This is true for many people who are struggling with mental health issues. Suicide, self-harm, and addiction are all loud actions, however, surviving and overcoming these issues speaks even louder.  Amy Bleuel is a survivor who has overcome a handful traumas and mental health issues including depression, bullying, and rape. Amy founded Project Semicolon to share her story of overcoming theses obstacles, as well as to honor her father whom she lost to suicide.

The Project Semicolon began as a social media movement in 2013, and has since become a worldwide crusade. A semicolon, as we all know, is a common punctuation mark used in grammar, to continue on a sentence. Now, the semicolon is taking on a bigger, more powerful meaning and is being used to empower those who suffer from depression, anxiety, self-harm, addiction and suicide. The idea is simple, “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve ended their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”

On April 16th of 2013, the first Project Semicolon campaign was launched via social media channels. People were asked to draw a semicolon on their wrist if they, or someone they knew, suffer from depression, self-harm, anxiety, addiction or even a broken heart; to show their support for the project and those struggling with these issues. Three years later, individuals continue to show their support by either drawing on, or more permanently, tattooing a semi colon onto their bodies.

Unfortunately, mental health issues come accompanied with social stigmas that can cause people struggling with these feelings to feel that they are alone in their situation. The Semicolon Project has created a conversation about mental health, and has created a community of support.  “Project Semicolon is inspiring those struggling with these issues, to keep their stories going, and to be an inspiration to those who are struggling.”

For more information about Project Semicolon, please visit their website at:

If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health or addiction please visit: