Miller Centre patient denied seeing-eye dog

Published on September 23, 2011
Kimberley Robbins, 29, of Caplin Cove, Conception Bay who resides in Torbay, is shown in her hospital room at the Miller Centre Wednesday. On her laptop is a photo of Duke, her two-year-old Siberian Husky guide dog who isn’t permitted to be with her according to Eastern Health policy. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Pictured on Kimberley Robbins’ laptop computer is her Siberian husky, Duke, a handsome dog, for certain.

Robbins has not seen him in more than 100 days since entering the Dr. Leonard A. Miller Centre in St. John’s, where the 29-year-old is being treated for muscle spasms that have become progressively worse over the last seven years — they cause her to fall out of her wheelchair at times.

But Duke is not just a dog she values as a companion — he’s her seeing-eye dog.

Robbins, who was born blind, developed transverse myelitis in 2004.

The neurological disorder caused by an inflammatory process affecting the spinal cord has forced her to use a manual wheelchair in tandem with her guide dog ever since.

An accident in the bathroom this year sent Robbins to the Health Sciences Centre. She was eventually transferred to the Miller Centre for physiotherapy and to try new drug treatments.

Upon being transferred to the Miller Centre, Robbins assumed she would be reunited with Duke.

“When I came here, I gave them a week, and then once I was able to get up and stay out of bed long enough, I asked if he could come here, because he’s supposed to be able to.”

Eventually, Robbins said, she was told it is against Eastern Health’s policy to allow guide dogs to stay at their facilities.

Robbins claims to have since learned there is no policy and said she was told a policy is being worked on.

In addition, Robbins said she has been denied access to a power wheelchair, even though an occupational therapist and sitting specialist both suggested it would be her best option.

“They both agreed that’s what I needed to move on.”

The occupational therapist later expressed concerns about using a power wheelchair alongside a guide dog, according to Robbins, and has kept her from trying it out since then.

She has a manual wheelchair in her room, but said she cannot use it at the moment.

“I can’t even sit in it without tipping over because of spasms.”

Robbins said she has used a power wheelchair in the past, and had no issues.

As a result, Robbins has spent her time at the Miller Centre confined to her bed. She expects to stay at the rehabilitation centre for at least three more months as she considers the possibility of undergoing a surgical procedure in British Columbia or Alberta to treat her spasms.

While it has been a frustrating experience for the Caplin Cove native, she did receive a call from an official with Eastern Health shortly before she spoke to The Telegram Wednesday informing her that the regional health authority is looking into her concerns.

“That’s really good,” she said.

Although Duke is allowed to visit Robbins at the centre, she said it would stress him out too much to see her in her present state.

“He’s usually really hyper and active, and ever since I’ve been in the hospital he’s been at my mom’s laying on the couch. He won’t go for walks, and she’s got to pull him off the couch to go eat or go outside.”

A spokeswoman for Eastern Health confirmed its does not have a formal policy in place for guide dogs. She went on to point out it does have guidelines in place for its pet therapy program.

For that program, the patient is responsible for looking after its animal, and the animal cannot be a threat or nuisance to other patients or staff.

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