Nightly News   |  June 18, 2013

Welcoming pets in the hospital

A program called Faithful Friends at the University of Maryland Medical Center allows a patient’s pet to visit him or her in the hospital provided that the pet undergoes rigorous screening, grooming and vaccinations. The visits can provide a turning point for patients, lowering their heart rate and offering a calming piece of home. NBC’s Stephanie Gosk reports.

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>>> we've seen a growing number of hospitals of late trying to loosen the rules, and change their ways. especially when they learn of genuine solutions that might help their patients heel up faster. we have a report tonight on the latest attempt at this. it's about allowing your best friend to stay with you at the hospital. our story tonight from nbc's stephanie gosk.

>> reporter: 15-year-old kyle wilkerson is spending the summer with his constant companion, his 100 pound chocolate lab . it's been a tough year for this teenager, in the hospital more than two months, and recovering from a heart transplant . his cardiologist was concerned.

>> he was critically sick.

>> reporter: that's when reverend susan roy told kyle 's family about a program called faithful friends, which allows a patient's own pet to visit them in the hospital.

>> when we witness patients who are reunited with their own pets, it's really incredible.

>> reporter: the reunion made an enormous impact.

>> his blood pressure got a little better. we saw some physical things that we could really rely on. he got so much happier.

>> the university of maryland medical center is one of a growing number of hospitals and hospice programs across the country allowing pet dogs and cats to visit their bed bound humans. the animals must go through rigorous screening, grooming and vaccinations to ensure safety for patients and others in the hospital. the visits were a turning point for her son.

>> she jumped up on his bed and got real close like she was going to lick him and kind of slowed down. almost like she knew he was sick. you saw his face light up. you saw his eyes smile.

>> that reaction isn't surprising, the american heart association says owning a dog may help reduce stress levels, cardiovascular risks and obesity.

>> reporter: kyle 's on the mend now thanks in part to this special connection. lifting spirits and helping the healing. stephanie gosk, nbc news new york.