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Vital Signs with Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Therapy Dog Visits Children in Hospital; Dogs' Ability to Detect Cancer by Smell Examined; Therapeutic Value of Llamas and Alpacas Assessed. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired April 30, 2016 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's coverage of the White House correspondents' dinner begins tonight at 7:00. That is red carpet music if ever I've heard it. John Berman will be on that carpet.

Thanks for joining me. I'm Martin Savidge. "VITAL SIGNS" with Dr. Sanjay Gupta begins right now.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: If you could do something for just 15 minutes that helped reduce stress and improve your mood, wouldn't you be up for it? I know I would, especially since it is pretty easy -- simply spend time with an animal. This is "Vital Signs." I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Over the years the benefits off animal assisted therapy have been well-documented, everything from lowering anxiety to reducing the risk of heart disease. A recent study in Japan said this connection might even be hormonal. When we lock eyes with our dogs, it releases oxytocin, a power neurotransmitter linked to your mood. It's the same hormone released with mothers and infants. So maybe it is no surprise that animal therapy and dogs in particular are so popular in hospitals all over the world.

It is early morning in Atlanta, Georgia. Lisa Kinsel is getting ready for work, and so is Casper. A little breakfast, a little grooming, and then it is time to put on his work uniform. He does this routine four times a week as a full-time employee with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. He has his own badge, and he is even on call.

LISA KINSEL, VOLUNTEER SERVICES, CHILDREN'S HEALTHCARE OF ATLANTA: He is in work mode right now. When Casper has his vest on and he knows he is working, he has this very calm demeanor.

GUPTA: So when the vest is on, he is different?

KINSEL: He knows that he has a job to do, and he does it really well.

GUPTA: Casper and Lisa arrive at the Scottish Rite Hospital just after 7:30 in the morning. At the hospital entrance, Casper takes the lead.

The first time you sort of made rounds, if you will, with Casper, what was that like? You're walking around with Casper. What was the reaction from patients, staff, anyone? KINSEL: I probably cried every day because for my job, I was not on

the frontlines previously.

Come on, good boy.

And all of the sudden, I have Casper, and I'm going into the patient room and meeting families.

Hi. I'm Lisa. This is Casper.


KINSEL: And their reaction, how touched they were, how thankful they were. So all of the sudden, I was on the frontlines feeling like I was a part of, and we are a part of the whole clinical team.


GUPTA: Dr. Dan Salinas is the chief medical officer for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. In 2009 Lisa and her team pitched the idea of a full time animal therapy program called Canines for Kids.

DR. DANIEL SALINAS, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, CHILDREN'S HEALTHCARE OF ATLANTA: We saw that we were filling the need that children and families had with an intermittent pet therapy program. But we saw that children were asked, and families were asking for more contact with the dogs. They didn't want to wait a week to have to see the dog again.

GUPTA: A program called Canine Assistance trains the dogs for 12 to 15 months. Casper was the first four-legged full-timer on staff here. Lisa met him when he was 18 months old.

KINSEL: When I first met Casper, he and I had the connection. We just knew that we were meant to be together. So we started working.

GUPTA: When you describe Casper, he has got, and I notice the eyes. There's a very, there's both a sympathetic and empathetic and there's all this emotion in the face. What did you notice? What was it about him?

KINSEL: I noticed that he is like a big sponge. He takes it all in. And I think that is what makes him work so well with the patients. And he knows that the child is maybe anxious, maybe he is in pain. So when we have a visit like that and we leave the room, it takes him a few minutes to decompress.

GUPTA: How do you know that he is decompressing? What is he doing?

KINSEL: He will literally just shutdown. He will stand there. He will look at me, and go, it is like, mom, I need a moment. It is that nonverbal look that I can tell he really needs a break.

GUPTA: This affects him, this job?

[14:05:00] KINSEL: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. GUPTA: Walking around the hospital with Casper, I can tell that he is

at home here.

Does Casper know where he is going?

KINSEL: Oh, yes, most definitely.

GUPTA: It looks like he is leading.

KINSEL: I keep saying that he really does not need me much anymore.

GUPTA: When we come across Nicky's room, Casper is all business. There is a little boy in here recovering from surgery who can't wait to visit his four-legged friend. Patiently, Casper waits outside while Lisa lays out a gown across Nicky's bed to help protect him from any germs.

KINSEL: Come on. Come up here and see Nikkolas. Good boy.

GUPTA: How are you feeling today, Nikkolas?


GUPTA: Anything hurt or anything? No? Good.

KINSEL: You look like you feel better today, do you? Yes. I don't think that you were feeling too good yesterday, but you look like you are feeling better today. You look happier today. I think it is Casper that does that, personally.

KATRINA SMITH, NIKKOLAS' MOTHER: He just had a permanent feeding tube inserted into his tummy yesterday. He has problems to gain weight. And it started out he has severe celiac disease, and so he has not put on any weight.

GUPTA: Katrina Smith is Nicky's mother. She has seen firsthand the impact Casper has had on her son.

SMITH: He was shut down yesterday. He had no smile, he had no voice, and when Casper came in he sat and just smiled and pet him and just say there and looked like he had no pain in the world.

GUPTA: The smile tells the story.

SMITH: Yes, absolutely.

GUPTA: While Casper is the first full-time service dog here, there are now 11 dogs on staff at the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. The hospital says it is the largest fulltime animal therapy program in the United States.

What was the biggest concern? What was the biggest hurdle in terms of getting a consistent program like this?

SALINAS: Well, I think that the biggest hurdle is that it is a new concept. We started this. It had not been done elsewhere. We had to convince some people that it was going to be OK, because we already had had the therapy dogs present in the facilities for years and years and years.

GUPTA: Casper and the other therapy dog worked with all of the teams, pain management, physical therapy, pre and post-surgery, even MRIs. If a little patient is scared of the MRI machine, Casper will hop up there and show them it is OK.

After a long day of successful visits, it is time for Casper to head home. Like Lisa says, when the vest comes off, Casper is just a normal dog again, playing in the grass, eating dog biscuits. Tomorrow, he'll be ready to do it all over again, and to share some of the Casper magic with anyone who needs him.

It is a tough question I think in some ways to ask, but how do you know when not just on any given day but overall Casper is not ready to do this work anymore. Is there a time?

KINSEL: Hopefully I will know that day comes when he just says, I'm done. But so far, I don't see any signs of him giving this up. As a matter of fact, there are nights when we walk into -- out of the lobby to go outside, and he won't get in the car. He doesn't want to go home. So I think he is going to continue to do this as long as he possibly can.

GUPTA: There are so many ways that animals can help our health. Recovery is one thing, but what about the diagnosis? It turns out the powerful noses of dogs might be able to help us there, too.


GUPTA: The benefits of being around animals are pretty obvious, but that is not the only way our four-legged friends are helping our health. Elephants may provide crucial clues in the fight against cancer for humans. Even though they have 100 times as many cells as we do, elephants rarely get cancer. A study found the cancer mortality rates for these animals is less than five percent. That's compared to 25 percent in humans. Scientists believe the key is an excess of a certain protein that inhibits cancer cells.

Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, dogs are helping us detect cancer. My colleague Elizabeth Cohen traveled to the U.K. to meet with these amazing dogs and their bio-sensing noses.


DR. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Dr. Claire Guest is CEO of the charity Medical Detection Dogs based in England. For years she has claimed she can train dogs to smell cancer cells. And now her dogs are taking part in one of the largest clinical trials of canine cancer detection. Dr. Guest is a believer because she says her dog Daisy caught her own cancer six years ago.

Claire, you said that a dog caught your cancer?

DR. CLAIRE GUEST, CEO, MEDICAL DETECTION DOGS: That's right. I was actually working on a cancer detection project and working with the dog during this time. She started to behave slightly differently around me, and she kept staring at me and looking into my chest. And it led me to find a lump. I had the lump checked by a DP, and I was referred to a specialist, and I had a diagnosis of a very grade breast cancer. I was told had my attention not drawn to it by Daisy that my prognosis would have been very poor.

COHEN: Dr. Guest started Medical Protection Dogs in 2008. The charity trains multiple teams, medical alert assistance dogs, for example, paired with diabetics to sniff out change in blood sugar levels and the cancer detection dogs. Why do we need dogs? There are plenty of tests to detect cancer.

GUEST: There are plenty of tests to detect cancer, but sadly not all of them are very reliable, very accurate. There's a great need for improved diagnosis. Treatment is improving all the time. But sadly diagnosis isn't.

COHEN: Rob Harris is training dogs to smell prostate cancer.

ROB HARRIS: This is Lucy. She's a Labrador crossed Irish spaniel.

COHEN: They take urine samples from eight different patients. Now one of the eight patients has cancer, and it is the dog's job to sniff it out.

To think that a dog might be able to smell the cancer in that small sample is amazing. So it's number four is the one the dog is supposed to sniff out.

HARRIS: That's correct. So Midas will come in, a Hungarian breed. She'll work with my colleague Mark.

[14:45:06] Would you like to move the position?

COHEN: Let's do it all the way on the other side. Catching it at number one is the most difficult because she won't have anything else to compare it to on this round, so this is a real test for Midas.

Scientists suspect volatile chemicals evaporate and send off an odor. We can't smell them because we have a measly 5 million sensors in the nose. But dogs have up to 300 million sensors in their noses.

GUEST: Midas has got this nose at the end of her face, but she has also got another. It's called the organ of Jefferson (ph) in the back of her throat, and that is screening volatiles as well.

COHEN: Any dogs has a powerful sense of smell, but hunter dogs like Kiwi, she's a yellow Labrador, are more easily trained. A recent smaller study found dogs catch cancer with more than 90 percent accuracy. That's higher than many traditional diagnostic tests.

We have known for many years that dogs can detect cancer. Are we finally getting to the stage where maybe this will come into actual use in a hospital? GUEST: For the first time I really believe that what the dogs have to

use is mainly be used by hospitals. And that doesn't mean that the dogs will be in a hospital, but what the dogs will do will be working in a training center like this, and the samples will be transported to the center where the dogs give the answer and the results is sent back. So yes, I think we're moving forward to the time when the dogs will be used in the diagnostic process, but not by going into hospital cells or sniffing around patients.

COHEN: In three years we will know the results of this large study using 3,000 urine samples from National Health Service patients in England.

To you think one day dogs like Midas can save lives?

GUEST: I really believe that dogs like Midas can save lives. She might have a fluffy coat and a long wagging tail, but she is a very, very, very sophisticated sensor.


GUPTA: From dogs to llamas -- you've probably never seen a therapy animal quite like this before.


[14:50:22] GUPTA: Welcome to Portland, Oregon, in the pacific northwest of the United States. The city is known for having a bit of a quirky personality. But even the people of Portland are surprised to see this. Your eyes do not deceive you. That is a llama and an alpaca walking through downtown.

LORI GREGORY, PRESIDENT, MOUNTAIN PEAKS THERAPY LLAMAS AND ALPACAS: Everybody needs a little bit of the happiness and joy in unexpected places.

GUPTA: Photos, hugs, a lot of laughter, that is what Rojo and Napoleon can do. That is what Lori Gregory and her daughter Shannon have been sharing with the Portland area for eight years now and counting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, llamas. Hey, alpacas. Hi, Napoleon.

GREGORY: We never dreamed that we would be doing work with llamas and alpacas. We moved to Vancouver from Oregon 20 years ago and bought two and a half acres, and basically got tired of mowing the lawn of the acreage. And so we went to the fair to look for some animals to keep it eaten down, and just kind of were intrigued with the llamas.

GUPTA: Shannon and Lori went llama shopping at a farm. A llama caught their eye immediately. Rojo, Spanish for "red," would become their first llama.

GREGORY: Roho just stood out from all the other llamas that were there. All the other llamas were out playing with their buddies in the pasture, and Rojo was only four months at the time. And he was just following the owner around her yard while she was doing chores.

GUPTA: That is 13 years ago. Over that time, Lori says, while he certainly grew, Rojo now weighs more than 400 pounds, his personality never changed.

GREGORY: Very people friendly, very touchable, enjoys being around new environments and things like that. So we are just so thankful to have him to take around because everybody falls in love with him.

GUPTA: So when someone suggested they get him certified as a therapy animal, it was an easy decision.

GREGORY: It was a pretty extensive process to get him certified eight years ago. And we have done over 1,000 visits since then, added four other llamas and three alpacas, and we go out almost every day of the week now.

GUPTA: Lori and Shannon started a nonprofit called Mountain Peaks Therapy, Llamas and Alpacas. Today they are headed to visit a nursing home with Rojo the llama and Napoleon, the alpaca. The residents here at Emerson House suffer from severe dementia, but the moment this unique group steps off of the elevator, there are smiles all across the room.

SHANNON HENDRICKSON, VICE PRESIDENT, MOUNTAIN PEAKS THERAPY LLAMAS AND ALPACAS: It is really neat taking a giant 400-pound animal into everywhere. A lot of times you get a lot of shock at first. They don't really understand why a llama who is dressed up is in their home. And then you look at this intrigue. So it is a shock, and then they are like, I want to feel it, I want to feel how soft he is. He looks cool. And then when they put a carrot in their lips and he gives them a kiss, it is instant, pure joy.

GUPTA: These carrot kisses are popular. Llamas don't have any upper teeth, just bottom teeth, so they don't bite.

HENDRICKSON It happens 100 times during every visit, and it is the same. It's just seeing people so giddy and just being the source of tha joy really fuels me and is exciting.

GUPTA: The Mayo Clinic says animal assisted therapy can reduce pain, depression, anxiety, and fatigue. Smiling and laughter are also good for your health and longevity. The simple act of smiling has been shown to activate the happiness centers in your brain, impacting your mood. Even a forced smile will do it.

But I can tell you, with Rojo and Napoleon around, no one is forcing a smile here. This is pure joy.

LINDSEY BRETZMAN, ENRICHMENT DIRECTOR, EMERSON HOUSE: All of the residents have dementia, so not all of them are able to communicate verbally. But once they see the animals, it becomes a whole new experience. So they touch the animal, and giving the llamas kisses. A lot of our residents lit up today. I had residents who don't speak English singing in the native tongue to the animals and touching the animals. GREGORY: For me, it has been life changing. When we first got

certified for therapy with Rojo, I thought this will be fun to share our special llama with these people and going to places like that.

[14:55:02] And then the first visit we did, Shannon was with me, and she had him on lead and was taking him into a rehab facility, we were there. And I was back on the backside with all the nurses and people in the facility, and as she would take him along the bedsides. I would hear them getting so excited and saying, wow, Harold hasn't spoken in a month, and I heard him say that he is cute, or look at how Helen is trying to sit up and she has not moved for -- and it is like every room we were going into, it is like seeing miracles happen.


GUPTA: Rojo is becoming a bit of a celebrity around here. Shannon has even written a children's book about him. For this mother- daughter team, it is another way to share Rojo with those who need him, or just need a smile.




GREGORY: Once we started to take them out, it is like, I have to do this. I can't not do it, you know? So, yes, it is a purpose and a life calling. And so, I'll be doing it until I can't anymore, and then Shannon will bring him to visit me.

HENDRICKSON: She better.


GUPTA: Those smiles are infectious, don't you think? It is incredible the difference a visit can make from Rojo and Napoleon or from Casper the therapy dog. Animals seem to have this almost magical power about them. If you have a pet at home, give them an extra treat today. With all they are doing for your health, they have earned it.

For "VITAL SIGNS," I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.