Patient's Best Friend

The human-animal bond is strong. The love we receive from our pets is unconditional and the comfort incomparable.PatientsBestFriend310x153v3

Dogs might be man's best friend indeed. The heartbeat inside that furry chest might actually keep your heart beating, according to studies which have found that the presence of a pet might just boost the survival rate of heart patients.

Research has shown that owning a pet can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, boost mood, enhance social interaction and add years to your life. With that in mind, SAMC has launched the region's first dog therapy program featuring certified and specially trained dogs, and their handlers, who visit patients at the bedside.

Lisa Gunn, a registered nurse at SAMC, is the first pet handler to join the Pawsitive Therapy program, begun by SAMC's Volunteer Services department. Gunn works the night shift and volunteers during the day with her Labrador Retriever, Lily.

They are one of about a dozen handlers and their dogs who are participating in the program.

"The dogs are calming and generally soothing to our patients," Gunn said. "Our visits have been very positive."2564PawsitiveRoomVisit310x153

The Pawsitive Therapy program helps patients express their feelings and offers comfort during a stressful experience. The dogs and their handlers receive special training customized for the hospital setting to ensure patients receive the maximum benefit from the visit.

Pawsitive Therapy began in pediatrics and has expanded to the cancer floor, neurology and behavioral health. Visits are made based on handlers' availability, but usually several dogs visit weekly.

On the day of a pet visit, nurses ask patients if they'd like a visit with a therapy dog. Just before a visit, volunteers confirm the patient is up to it. Then Lily and Gunn make their way from room to room.

A sheet is placed on the bed for patient safety and comfort. The dog is gently positioned on the bed and the petting begins. The visit usually puts a smile on patients' faces as they recall their own dogs, cats and other friends. Hand sanitizer is used before and after a pet visit.

On the pediatric unit, Lily finds a soft spot on top of the bed next to 5-year-old Jaycie Palmer of Hartford, who was being treated for a broken arm. Jaycie's mother, Ciji, said the visit helped brighten her daughter's stay in the hospital.

"She has a black cocker spaniel at home named Charlie," Ciji said. "This visit has meant a lot to her."

Animals have been used as therapy in hospitals as early as the 1700s in Europe because of their calming influence. The relaxing effect of touch is also beneficial. And, pets in behavioral health facilities are thought to give patients a useful purpose while teaching both self-control and caregiving.

It is also believed that pets contribute to longevity by providing a daily purpose, especially for seniors living alone. Pet owners often feel needed and responsible, stimulating survival instincts. That effect can also be felt at the hospital bedside.

The SAMC Foundation contributed funds for pet therapy/training, handlers' uniforms, general supplies,5423PawsitiveDogsGroupShot sending pets/trainers to community events, a brochure and community education materials. In the upcoming year, Foundation funds will be used to train more dogs through customized obedience classes.

Is your dog a patient's best friend?
To find out more about certification classes and training, contact Volunteer Services Director Jamie Weeks at 334-793-8122.

Sibling Similarities

Sibling Similiarities

Gregory Gibson and his sister Amanda took different paths, but they led to the same destination.4029SiblingSimilarities175x100

Cheryl and Ray Gibson laid the foundation. As an educator, Cheryl says she recognized the importance of building strong reading skills and giving her children the tools to succeed. "We read to our children early and often," said Cheryl. "We encouraged good reading habits which built their comprehension and vocabulary skills. We believed that would be an asset in any career choice, but especially in medicine."

Taking every advantage of what was given, Amanda and Gregory Gibson, DO, set high goals for themselves. Their foundation is helping build their careers in medicine.

Dr. Gibson, internal medicine, joined Southern Clinic last summer. His younger sister, Amanda Gibson, is currently in the Alabama Medical Education Consortium pipeline, completing her last two years of medical school with rotations at SAMC.

The siblings acknowledge medicine always interested them but they became unconventional medical students, working a few years before taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and applying to medical school.

Gregory went back to college to complete his undergraduate degree before applying to medical school. He worked for several years as a photographer and a landscaper on a golf course.

Amanda, the family agrees, was destined for a medical career, having spent her summers doing hospital volunteer work since she was about 12 years old. Many days, she worked 8-10 hours in recovery, labor and delivery, and outpatient.

"We continue to be amazed that both our children are following the same career path," Cheryl said. "We never tried to direct our children's career decisions. Instead, we tried to provide a home environment which supported learning. We helped with homework, provided resources for projects and communicated with teachers and other school staff. We were very involved."

Gregory and Amanda also both have a unique connection with the4113GibsonsWalking Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine (ACOM), which will accept its first class of 150 students this fall.

After completing his degree in preprofessional biology at Jacksonville State University, Dr. Gibson was accepted at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Bradenton, Fla., where he interviewed with June Flaim. June later left Lake Erie to become a consultant for ACOM, working closely with Craig Lenz, DO, dean of ACOM.

Dr. Lenz was at DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine in Tennessee when Amanda applied there after graduating from the University of Alabama at Birmingham with the same biology degree as her brother. Before applying to medical school, she spent six years working for the Alabama Eye Bank. Dr. Lenz interviewed Amanda for acceptance at DeBusk.

"It's really strange, this connection, but fortuitous for both Greg and me," Amanda said.

HIS PATH: After graduating from Dothan High School in 1992, Dr. Gibson continued his studies at Wallace Community College and Troy State University before deciding to leave school and enter the workforce. He worked at the Gadsden Country Club before becoming a school, sports and wedding photographer. He then took a job as a research technician at UAB.

"I worked at UAB for two years in the protein chemistry lab, looking for ovarian cancer biomarkers. In the back of my mind, I always wanted to go into medicine, but I wasn't sure I could do it. Working in research made me realize I wanted to go back to school. I am grateful I did other things before going into medicine, but after I saw what was out there, I didn't mind the sacrifices on my time which medicine requires."

He started his medical education in Florida at the age of 29. After medical school, he did his residency at St. Joseph's Hospital in Warren, Ohio. The road then led back to Dothan.

"I was always open to returning home, but I didn't specifically plan it. It is clear to me that Dothan is a wonderful place to practice."

And had ACOM been in existence, Dr. Gibson said he would have applied. "It is a fantastic opportunity for students," he said. "There are a lot of people interested in going into medicine and who will make great doctors. This is another avenue for them.

"And I can tell you for me, it is an honor and a privilege to practice medicine," he said.

Dr. Gibson married his wife, Shannon, right after graduating medical school. They have a daughter, Abby, who is 2, and are expecting their second child in March.

HER PATH: Amanda was a sophomore at Dothan High when she was accepted to the School of Math & Science in Mobile. The expansive curriculum better prepared her for what she always believed would be her career choice. After graduating college, she took the job at the eye bank to learn more about medicine and to be certain this was the path she wanted to pursue.

Once she was sure, Amanda began studying for the MCAT and undertook a monthlong shadowing experience with James Jones, DO, medical director of SAMC's Emergency Department.

"I had the little doctor kit toy when I was a child," she said. "I always wanted to be a doctor, but it is a big decision. At 22, I was not equipped to do that. Working in the medical field at the eye bank showed me I could pursue medicine."

Amanda has completed two years at DeBusk and these next two clerkship years will lead her toward a specialty, whether it be family practice, surgery, psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics or internal medicine like her brother.

"There's a huge difference in the specialties. I have to decide what's most meaningful to me. Right now I am keeping my options completely open."

"I was always a really good student. I never saw becoming a physician as anything extraordinary. More like, choosing this path is something to be proud of."

Amanda, who is seven years younger than her brother, said the two try not to talk medicine when the family is around. They get lost in the passion of the work, she said, and tend to go on and on in their discussions.

A doctor of osteopathic medicine, known as a DO, is a fully qualified physician – just like an MD. The difference is the physician's approach to their craft. Osteopathic medicine stresses a comprehensive approach to health. In order to maintain good health and prevent disease, emphasis is placed on the interrelationship between the musculoskeletal system and other body systems.

The fundamental principles of osteopathic medicine stress that the body is a unit and the person is a unity of body, mind and spirit. The body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing and health maintenance, and structure and function are reciprocally interrelated. Osteopathic physicians use rational treatment based on those principles.

The American Osteopathic Association estimates that 60 percent of DOs practice in the primary care specialties of family medicine, general internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology – filling a critical need for physicians by practicing in rural and other medically underserved communities. Some 63,000 licensed osteopathic physicians now practice in the U.S. ACOM will become the 35th college of osteopathic medicine in the U.S. when it opens in May.

"I don't draw a strong distinction (between MDs and DOs)," said Amanda. "Medicine is medicine. The training program is equivalent in just about every way and we all have the same goals. We want what's best for our patients.

"Sure, I would have considered attending ACOM," said Amanda. "And even though I didn't, I can see myself returning to Dothan one day. It's a great place to practice medicine."

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Time Matters Most

When Time Matters Most.

TeleHealth initiative allows for quicker stroke assessment.1187TelehealthStrokeCart

When it comes to stroke care, no one is more committed than Southeast Alabama Medical Center. SAMC is the first and only hospital in the area offering 24/7 neurosurgery coverage and now access to stroke specialists through the Alabama Partnership for TeleHealth.

This allows SAMC's Stroke Team to provide quicker diagnosis and treatment for stroke patients.

And it reinforces our dedication to excellence. We were the first hospital in the region to achieve the American Heart Association's 2012 GOLD PLUS Stroke Award.

"We are very excited to have this new technology," said Stephen Fernandez, MD, interventional radiologist with Radiology Associates of Dothan. "Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the nation and the number one cause of disability, so we are pleased to have these new developments in telemedicine to quickly evaluate, diagnose and treat patients in remote locations, who, without telemedicine, would not normally have timely access to this higher level of life-saving care."

The TeleHealth initiative saves valuable time for the patient. When first responders arrive on the scene, they will assess the patient and determine through a stroke protocol if the patients is potentially suffering a stroke. If the patient is a potential stroke victim, a call will be made to the Emergency Department at SAMC alerting them of the situation.

At that time, a Stroke Alert will be called internally and the CT Department and Laboratory Services will be placed on standby. A Critical Care Unit nurse and house supervisor will report to the Emergency Department and begin monitoring patient information as it comes in.

Once the patient arrives at SAMC, an Emergency Department physician will assess the condition of the patient and alert a neurologist. The physician can speak with the patient by video linkup in the Emergency Department.

This vital link is potentially life-saving by allowing for a quicker stroke diagnosis to determine if the clot-busting drug tPA should be administered for those who arrive within the time frame and who medically qualify for the drug.

SAMC's nationally ranked stroke team, consisting of a rehabilitative therapist, case manager, neurologist, neurosurgeon, radiologist, clinical specialist and other support personnel, work in concert for the best outcomes for all stroke patients.

The Philanthropic Women's Society of the SAMC Foundation donated more than $55,000 toward the TeleHealth technology, to purchase an Acute Stroke TeleHealth Cart.

"The Women's Society felt there was a need for this service in the small- to medium-sized hospitals in our service area," said Kristi Smith, chair of the Philanthropic Women's Society.

"They also recognized that providing two Telehealth carts could help save lives and prevent more serious damage to the brain. In our very first year, this group of 58 women who each contributed $1,000 pooled their philanthropic dollars and chose a project that will have a dramatic impact on healthcare in our community."

The region's most comprehensive Stroke Team includes the SAMC Emergency Department, Laboratory Services, CT, Pharmacy, Critical Care, Hospitalists and Nursing. We will also be working in concert with area EMS personnel and ambulance providers.