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Danielle Palmieri, R.N.

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Danielle Palmieri, R.N. People Animal Connection (PAC) Program Labor and Delivery Nurse, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical CenterDanielle Palmieri, R.N. People Animal Connection (PAC) Program Labor and Delivery Nurse, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center

UCLA nurse and pet companion make a difference

When Danielle Palmieri, R.N., is not taking care of new mothers and their babies in Labor and Delivery at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, she may be found rescuing animals, taking care of her own five, "four-legged children," or visiting UCLA patients with her 6-year-old Chihuahua, Gracie, as a volunteer for our People Animal Connection (PAC) Program.

When did you and Gracie become PAC volunteers?
I've been a nurse at UCLA for eight years and Gracie and I started volunteering for PAC in September 2008, so we are a fairly new team. I had been training Gracie for a year and a half, and we had completed our Delta Therapy Certification in hopes of joining the program. Nine months later, Jack Barron, director, PAC Program, was able to get us started.

What personality trait makes Gracie perfect at what she does?
Gracie weighs only 2 pounds and is very small, and very mellow, even for a Chihuahua. There is just something about her sweet little face and big brown eyes. She loves all people and loves nothing more than to be in a warm lap or snuggled up in someone's arms. She just seems to know when a person is in need of a little extra TLC. I love her to pieces! Seeing the patients benefit from spending time with her, even if for a brief moment, is incredible.

What's the most rewarding part of working with Gracie and our patients?
Gracie and I have had truly amazing experiences. A few weeks ago, we were on 5W seeing patients when one of the nurses asked me if I could see a particular patient who she was taking care of that day. I learned that the patient was a 6-year-old girl named Kourtney, who is in need of a small bowel, large bowel and pancreas transplant. She had not spoken to anyone, including her mother, since surgery for the removal of her large intestine a week before, and refused to get out of bed.

I proceeded to ask Kourtney if it was okay if I put Gracie on the bed and she nodded, "Yes." As Gracie curled up next to Kourtney, Kourtney gently began to pet her. I asked Kourtney if she had any dogs at home, and she looked at me for a second and that was it. She proceeded to tell me all about her dogs and herself and all kinds of things. Her mother's jaw hit the ground, as did the nurse's. They couldn't believe she was talking and talking so much! The nurse looked up at Kourtney's heart rate moitor. She said, "Oh my God, her heart rate is normal." It hadn't been normal since surgery, due to pain.

Gracie's presence made her relax and forget about her pain, and her heart rate came down to normal. After a 35-minute bed visit, and a whole lot of pictures later, we got Kourtney out of bed and into a wheelchair. She requested that Gracie sit on her lap in the wheelchair, so Gracie again curled right up in Kourtney's lap and we were off. We went all around the floor and even out to the children's playroom. Every doctor, social worker and nurse we saw along the way, all made the same comment - "Kourtney, you're out of bed, that's amazing!" And her mother's response to them was so simple, yet so profound: She replied, "Yes, we tried everything and all she needed was a 2-pound dog!" As we wrapped up our visit, Kourtney hugged and kissed Gracie goodbye and said, "Thank you."

It is extremely rewarding being a nurse and volunteer. My patients bring me unyielding gratification, and I can truly say that there is not a day that I work, that I don't make a difference in someone's life, or they don't make a difference in mine. It is a blessing and a gift.

What are your personal hobbies?
My other passion is humanitarian work. I am going to Uganda in March with the non-profit organization Medicine for Humanity. Due to my persistence, this is the first year nurses will be taking part in a mission. I will be there with two of my co-workers for three weeks, educating nurses, helping to deliver babies and providing life-saving surgery for women desperately in need. We will also be bringing medications and supplies with us that these poor people would have no other way of getting. It is going to be a life-changing experience and I hope it will inspire others to take action as well.