Maya may be big in stature, but what patients notice most are the enormous size of her heart and the gentleness of her soul.
The 130-lb, 2-year-old Newfoundland is one of the newest graduates of Akron Children’s Doggie Brigade program. Her handler, Shawn Lyden, says he’s always admired the work of the Doggie Brigade over the years and knew when Maya was a pup that she would be a great addition to the team.
“She’s just such a natural at this kind of work,” Lyden said. “I knew the kids would love seeing her.”
While Lyden spends his Saturday mornings making patient rounds with Maya at the hospital, he spends his weekdays focusing on the business side of healthcare as executive vice president of Akron Children’s.
On a recent dreary Saturday, 9-year-old Ethan Swanger, of New Philadelphia, beamed as Maya lumbered in. Ethan has a growing collection of Doggie Brigade cards and keeps them in a special scrapbook.
He comes to the hospital every week for therapy and looks forward to seeing more of the dogs.
In fact, he’s on a waiting list for a service dog. He and his mom, Cookie Swanger, can’t wait until he has a furry friend to call his own. Cookie said Maya was just what the doctor ordered.
“We are so grateful people like Shawn share their dogs with us when we’re here,” Cookie said. “It means a great deal to Ethan to get these visits. We are here quite often and it makes our day when they stop and spend some time with us.”
Lyden says he’s amazed at the connection he’s already forged with patient families like Ethan’s while he’s doing his rounds. One of his first visits with Maya on the inpatient floor was especially moving.
“We stopped by a room where a boy was admitted because of a severe dog bite,” Lyden said. “He insisted that he wanted to visit with Maya despite all of that. He was tentative with her at first, but by the end of our time together, they were fast friends. It was great to be part of the healing process.”