Inside a toy-packed hospital room that has been her home for eight months, a wish came true Feb. 1 for AnnaRose Van Sciver, 9, a cardiac patient at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital.
Surrounded by family members, two veterinarians, a volunteer, a nurse and one of her doctors, the little girl, who is awaiting a heart transplant, carefully stroked a mellow tabby cat named Biscuit, plastic gloves on her tiny hands to prevent any possible spread of infection.
“She has green eyes, like Bailey,” said AnnaRose, referring to one of her two cats back home in St. Cloud, Fla. — three hours away. In 2011, AnnaRose’s family moved to Florida from their longtime residence in North Tonawanda, N.Y., for their daughter’s health.
Her mother, Cean Van Sciver, and her grandmother spend every day in her room with AnnaRose, while her father, Jim, takes over at night. The bright-eyed fan of Disney, milkshakes and video games is never without a two-legged family member, but AnnaRose hasn’t seen her four-legged ones since June.
“Anna has been asking for months if there was some way she could spend time with a cat,” said Renata Shih, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist with the UF Health Congenital Heart Center and one of AnnaRose’s doctors. “She obviously misses her cats terribly, but AnnaRose can’t leave the hospital as she has to be monitored and is dependent on intravenous medication that is administered continuously. This family asks for so little, and we really wanted to help her if we could.”
Knowing that UF Health has a dog therapy program but not one with cats, she turned to the veterinarian she knows best — her husband, Andre Shih, D.V.M., an associate professor of anesthesia and pain management at UF’s College of Veterinary Medicine — for help.
After many phone calls and much paperwork, the Shihs were able to make AnnaRose’s wish come true.
Biscuit is a former longtime resident of the UF Small Animal Hospital, where she had been a participant in the hospital’s blood donor program. As such, Biscuit — so named because of the way she holds her paws — has been rigorously screened for the presence of infectious, viral and zoonotic diseases. She was adopted last year by Maura Duffy, D.V.M., a UF small animal medicine resident, and lives as an indoor-only cat in a one-pet household.
“It was so rewarding to be able to help out with this,” said Andre Shih. “We were confident that the cat was healthy and that we could ensure this visit would be safe for all, but most importantly that we would be able to do something meaningful for AnnaRose.”
An outgoing little girl with long, sandy brown hair, AnnaRose has a complex congenital heart defect alleviated with surgical procedures that allowed her heart to function as a single ventricle, or pumping chamber. Her single ventricle is now failing, which is the reason she needs a heart transplant.
After she receives her transplant, the Shihs mentioned the possibility of having AnnaRose, who wants to be a veterinarian one day, visit the UF Small Animal Hospital. In the meantime, Biscuit seemed to relish the affection of her new friend, curling up against AnnaRose’s legs.
“I think every animal gets used to me,” AnnaRose said.