Taylor Stathes needs her patient, 7-year-old Cadence Corbett, to be a captive audience in the hospital MRI waiting room. Tablet in hand, Stathes previews Cadence’s journey to a machine that can be intimidating even to adults. Cadence looks hopeful when Stathes tells her about the movie goggles she can wear during the three-hour scan, and her anxiety is replaced with joy when Stathes puts the goggles on Vivi, Stathes’ coworker and one of Greenville Health System’s therapy dogs.
From the moment Cadence arrives in the waiting room, Vivi is by her side. While learning about the MRI, Cadence’s hands never leave Vivi’s head or belly. Vivi is Stathes’ not-so-secret weapon, an atomic calm bomb. “I’ve taken a back seat to this girl,” Stathes said. “She lights up every room we walk into, she keeps kids calm, and even the toughest doctors and nurses in the building melt in her presence.”
Stathes is modest; she’d rather give Vivi credit than speak of the education and experience that got her where she is today. Clemson was her only destination from as far back as she can remember. She fell in love with the campus and the people, but she didn’t know what major would work for her. She just knew she wanted to work with kids, so she grabbed a course catalog and searched for what would apply.
Stathes had never heard of recreational therapy, but it fit the bill. What she found were supportive faculty members, an innovative approach to education and a program that combined everything she was passionate about. She said the department was especially flexible with her high-pressure schedule as a Clemson cheerleader for multiple sports. Stathes was a collegiate athlete, but she never took her eye off what she would be equipped to do after graduation.“Recreational therapy taught me to look at the whole picture of a patient, to be able to consider their physical and emotional health,” Stathes said. “The program turned me on to child life and defined my career.”
Stathes went on to earn a master’s degree in child life from the University of La Verne in California. She said she was lucky to find work at GHS and even luckier to discover pet therapy programs and their potential benefits.
Stathes, along with other child life employees, quickly secured approvals and donations to get a more intensive, animal assisted therapy program off the ground to complement GHS’ existing pet therapy programs. She contacted Canine Assistants, the non-profit organization that trained and provided two therapy dogs to GHS and paired Vivitar — Vivi for short — with Stathes. Canine Assistants makes the pairing based on the personality of dog and potential handler, but it didn’t take long for Stathes to realize why Vivi was the dog for her. “She’s never met a stranger, she’s always smiling, she wears Clemson orange on Fridays and she’s always accessorizing,” Stathes said, laughing. “At least I hope that’s why they paired us up.” At first, Stathes was skeptical of the bond-based training that Canine Assistants employs. Rather than structure training around commands or obedience, the organization pairs the right dog with the right person and creates a bond so that the dog is willing to do things without the need for a command. Vivi can assist doctors in distracting and holding down patients who require a needle poke.
As in the case with Cadence, she can be there to calm while Stathes delivers information. Luckily, there are no tears during Cadence’s visit, but she’s no fan of MRIs. When Cadence’s mother, Reanna Corbett, asks about the length of the MRI, Cadence freezes for a moment. However, the look of concern disappears from Cadence’s face almost as quickly as it arrives because Vivi is goading her for more attention. Later, Corbett happily reports that the planned sedation for Cadence wasn’t even required despite three spinal scans and a brain scan. “Taylor made my daughter feel like a star, and she somehow explained everything while making it fun,” Corbett said. “The only things she would talk about the rest of the day were Taylor and Vivi.”