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patient story

Jude Kortmeyer

four paws for comfort

In April 2021, 5-year-old Jude Kortmeyer, knew something was happening in his body. He didn’t fully know what but he was sluggish, experiencing tremors and the left side of his body was tight making it hard to fully move. His parents, Leah and Jesse, took him to the Dayton Children’s Hospital emergency room where they would receive life alternating diagnosis – Jude had a malignant brain tumor on the right side of his brain.

When Jude was admitted to the ICU later that day his young body had already been through a lot of tests and procedures and it was only the beginning. His ICU nurse sought out Child Life Specialist Meghan King explaining to her that Jude was not coping well with his hospitalization and wondered if Meghan could assist. Meghan knew this might be just the time to introduce Jude to Millie, the hospital’s canine co-pilot facility dog. Jude’s dad, Jesse, shared that his son might not be interested in talking to anyone but he was open to Meghan and Millie visiting Jude to try various interventions to promote positive coping.

“Jude was over everything that had been thrown at him that day. It was a lot for him and his family. But as soon as Jude saw Millie, his whole demeanor changed and he immediately invited Millie onto his bed,” Meghan said.

So, began a steadfast connection between Millie and Jude. Jude spent several weeks in the ICU and Millie was right there, helping in any way she could. Millie assisted Jude while he underwent physical therapy where, with Millie’s assistance and physical therapists present, Jude was able to get up and out of bed 24 hours after brain surgery. He also enjoyed placing treats around the room for Millie which helped encourage mobilization – which turns out to be Millie’s favorite activity of all time!

“Millie had such a positive effect on Jude. He surprised a lot of his care team by how quickly he met his physical and occupational therapy goals following surgery. Jude wanted nothing more than to hang out with his friend Millie and “play” with her,” Meghan explained.

According to Meghan, facility dogs like Millie and her fellow canine co-pilot, Peppermint, undergo specialized training through 4 Paws for Ability located in Xenia, Ohio. Child life specialists and the facility dogs work alongside the medical team to help patients reach a specific goal whether that be providing comfort positioning for an IV placement, lending a paw for a blood draw, or demonstrating how to do an MRI to encourage the child to do it without sedation. Millie and Peppermint know how to demonstrate different positioning children may experience for tests and procedures, how to wear an anesthesia mask, and how to comfort a child when they need it most.

“When a child comes into the hospital, especially when admitted to the ICU, it comes with a lot of different emotions on top of their own medical diagnosis, which can be very overwhelming as it was for Jude,” she said. “Millie and our Child Life team offer a safe outlet for patients and families to turn to for additional support and process through their emotions.” 

Dr. Shobhan Vachhrajani, a pediatric neurosurgeon who treated and diagnosed Jude, said one of the biggest challenges when treating children is the intense feeling of anxiety they can have because children don’t fully understand what is going on. In Jude’s case, he is a smart boy and knew something wasn’t right. 

“While Jude trusted us to look after him, he kept telling us that he just wanted this thing out of his head. Unfortunately, it’s not as straightforward as that so seeing Millie every day brought Jude a sense of comfort,” Dr. Vachhrajani said. “Jude was able to have a moment away from all the medical stuff and just be a kid with her. It’s amazing to see their bond and how much Millie was able to connect with him.”

For Leah Kortmeyer, Jude’s mom, the bond with Millie is everything. She said seeing Jude happy helped her and her husband, Jesse, the most as they worked to deal with Jude’s diagnosis and next steps.

“Millie was Jude’s favorite part of the day. We’ve been to a lot of hospitals and having Millie as a dedicated resource was amazing. This program at Dayton Children’s far exceeds anything, anywhere and we are so thankful to them.”

In fact, when Jude was discharged, the Kortmeyer’s purchased a ‘Millie’ stuffed animal dog from the hospital’s gift shop. Jude continues to take ‘Millie’ to every appointment, procedure and cuddles with her every night as he goes to sleep.

“Millie was there for us too. When we received the news on Jude’s diagnosis, Meghan and Millie stayed with Jude so we could have a moment to ourselves and digest the news. Then, when we returned Millie gave us hugs and comforted us too,” Leah said. “Seeing your son at his absolute happiest thanks to Millie means the world to us and we are so grateful she was there for him.”