Stroke survivor inspires others with help of therapy dog

stScott Vande Zande and his dog, Katie, have a weekly mission, visiting stroke patients at Swedish Medical Center. (Photo: KOMO News)roke2.jpg

SEATTLE--Scott Vande Zande and his dog, Katie, are on their weekly mission, visiting stroke patients at Swedish Medical Center.

Susan Labelle suffered her stroke a month ago and hasn't seen her own two dogs since. So when Katie rolled over for a belly rub, Labelle was happy to oblige.

"I really, really miss them. So it's nice to have the (therapy) dogs come in," she said.

Vande Zande is more than Katie's handler. He knows first hand what these patients are going through.

"I had aphasia very bad at the start, too," he said to patient Kathleen Crabtree.

"Oh, is that right?" she asked while petting Katie's head and cooing, "You are so good."

Vande Zande suffered a stroke 14 years ago, wiping out his ability to speak and limiting his movement. His dogs came to visit him in the hospital and a therapy dog named Hollie helped him recover.

"You just speak so well and move so well," Crabtree noted. "It's wonderful. So that makes me feel good. I can get this done. I can do this."

"I think most people, if they looked at me they couldn't tell I had a stroke," Vande Zande said. "But there are some really down times and I just want to share with people, be very positive about getting better."

After each visit, patients have something to think about.

"It was interesting to see how well he has done, considering how serious his stroke was," patient Marilyn Lauer said.

They also have something to smile about.

"I really wanted a dog, so I got the best of both worlds," patient Dolores Huff laughed. "They just come and visit, and then their owners have to take care of them."

That laughter and optimism keep Vande Zande and Katie coming back.

The pair also volunteer at events for the American Heart Association. They participated in in Tacoma's Heart and Stroke Walk. Seattle's event is coming up on Saturday, Oct. 14 at Seattle Center.

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