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11-year-old cancer survivor training therapy dog to help other hospitalized children

Therapy dogs made a big difference for sixth-grader Isaac Reed when he was a cancer patient at Masonic Children’s Hospital. Now, he’s on a mission to train a therapy animal of his own.
Isaac Reed, who was treated this year at Masonic Children’s Hospital for Ewing’s sarcoma, loved it when therapy dogs visited him at the hospital. Now he’s cancer-free and is helping train his family’s new puppy, six-month-old Lucy, to become a certified therapy dog.

Sixth-grader Isaac Reed dreaded unexpected knocks on his hospital room door.

That’s because a knock usually meant Isaac, a cancer patient at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, would have to put up with another blood draw, chemotherapy infusion, or uncomfortable medical examination.

But Isaac’s fear melted away during one of his regular hospital stays, when a therapy dog first visited his room.

“One night he was feeling pretty yucky and discouraged, but when the dog arrived, it brightened his spirits,” said Trisha Reed, Isaac’s mother. “I think the dog helped him see that not everyone who came to his room was there to bother him. It changed his whole mood.”

That experience has driven Isaac, who is now cancer-free, to help other patients at Masonic Children’s Hospital—by training his own therapy animal, Lucy.

“Time stood still”
Isaac’s battle with cancer began in August 2014, when he began complaining about pain in his side.

At first, his parents Trisha and Dan were not concerned—Isaac was an active boy, participating every day in summer recreation programs in their small hometown near Alexandria, Minn. But by mid-August, Isaac’s pain had worsened and spread to one of his legs. The family tried chiropractic treatments, and then physical therapy. But the treatments did not help. Concerned that Isaac may have scoliosis, Trisha and Dan sought a referral for a spine specialist in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

But on the way to their visit to the specialist, Isaac’s pain flared.

“He was writhing in pain in the backseat of the car,” Trisha said. “By the time we got to the doctor’s office, he couldn’t even sit down.”

The doctor, concerned by Isaac’s pain, ordered an MRI. The day after the MRI, Isaac’s doctor called while the family was eating a tortellini dinner. Trisha remembers the moment vividly.

“The doctor said: ‘We know there’s a tumor on your son’s spine, and the only thing we know is that it’s not benign,’” Trisha recalled. “The kids were still sitting at the dinner table. When I heard that, I thought time was standing still.”

Isaac underwent 14 separate chemotherapy sessions and radiation treatment before he was declared cancer-free.

“He wants something good to come from this”
The spine specialist referred Isaac to University of Minnesota Health Orthopaedic Surgeons Denis Clohisy, MD, and Edward Santos, MD.

Together, the surgeons conducted a biopsy of Isaac’s tumor at Masonic Children’s Hospital. Following the procedure, Isaac was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a type of cancer that forms in bone or soft tissue—often on arms, legs, chest or pelvis. Almost immediately, he began a 14-session chemotherapy regimen under the direction of Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist Emily Greengard, MD and Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Fellow Nathan Gossai, MD.

Learn more about our pediatric cancer care program.

During the chemo treatments, he stayed with his family for three- or five-days stints at Masonic Children’s Hospital. Isaac also underwent a difficult month of radiation treatment early in 2015. Finally, after yet another set of MRI scans in June 2015, Isaac and his parents heard the words they’d been longing to hear since his diagnosis the preceding October: “No evidence of disease.”

Now, Isaac is enjoying tae kwon do, jumping on the trampoline and playing with his friends. But there is one activity that holds a particularly special place in his heart: Training Lucy, his six-month-old goldendoodle puppy, to become a certified therapy dog. Though Lucy is still too young to visit patients at the hospital, Isaac and Trisha hope to bring her to Masonic Children’s Hospital next year, once she has completed her therapy animal certification.

“She’s a teddy bear goldendoodle, and she thinks everybody loves her,” Isaac said. “I just want there to be more therapy dogs, because I know how much I enjoyed it when they came to my room.”

Trisha and Dan can’t thank Isaac’s care team enough for the care they gave.

“We absolutely felt like they walked through the whole journey with us,” she said. “They went beyond what I would’ve expected.”

But she’s also touched that her 11-year-old son wants to help other young cancer patients.

“He said to us several times that he wants something good to come from all of this,” Trisha said. “It makes me so proud that he’s the kind of kid that wants to look for the good things in life.”