Above And Beyond

No Request Is Too Much For Rwjuh Hamilton Staff Members, Who Go To Great Lengths To Ensure That Patients’ Needs Are Met.

In August 2019, Robert Mitchell, a 48-year- old truck driver, was traveling through New Jersey when he noticed that the pain and swelling that had started in one finger a few days earlier had spread throughout his entire left hand. “It got so bad that I could barely drive, and I was shaking and sweating,” recalls Robert, who lives in Springfield, Mo.

Robert headed to the nearest hospital, which was Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Hamilton. There, he was admitted and diagnosed with a staph infection. Unbeknownst to him, a small cut on one of his fingers had become infected after he banged his hand on his truck door, and he needed emergency hand surgery to remove the infected areas. While he was lying in his hospital bed, Robert worried about his 10-year-old dog, Hopper, a Jack Russell Chihuahua mix, who was still in his truck. “He keeps me company on the road so I don’t get too sad and lonely missing my family,” says Robert, who has four children: Ryan, 27, Kayla, 25, Dusty, 23, and Ethan, 19. “I love him like one of my kids.”

Acts Of Kindness

As soon as Robert explained that his furry friend was in the parking lot, the RWJUH Hamilton staff sprang into action.

Security personnel took turns making sure Hopper was fed and walked several times a day. (Robert’s truck has an auxiliary power unit, so Hopper could stay cool and comfortable in air-conditioning even in the sweltering summer heat.) Still, Robert worried about Hopper. Admitted on a Thursday, Robert had surgery the next day. By Saturday, “I was begging the hospital staff to take the IV antibiotics out of my hand because I wanted to drive home with my dog,” he recalls.

On Sunday morning, Robert’s hand surgeon, Daren Aita, MD, stopped by to check on Robert and change the dressings on his hand. Robert shared his concerns about Hopper. “He explained that Hopper was stuck in his truck and he was worried about his dog,” recalls Dr. Aita.

As a fellow dog lover, Dr. Aita understood the gravity of the situation. He excused himself to call his wife, who readily agreed to swing by and pick up Hopper. “I walked back into the room and said, ‘I realize that you don’t know me at all, but you’re going to be in the hospital for the next five to seven days, and my family and I would be absolutely delighted to watch Hopper,” he says. Robert hemmed and hawed for a few moments but ultimately agreed.

A Grateful Patient

As soon as Hopper’s paws crossed the Aitas’ front door, he couldn’t have been happier. He warmed up immediately to the Aitas’ own dog—a mixed breed they adopted from the Caribbean—and made himself right at home. Every day, the family sent Robert pictures of Hopper. “I saw one of Hopper cuddling with Dr. Aita while he scratched his belly, and I knew my dog was in a good place,” says Robert.

A few days later, Robert was discharged, and he and Hopper had a reunion in the parking lot. Today, he keeps in touch with the Aitas, occasionally emailing them pictures of Hopper.

“Before this experience, I had a negative impression of people on the East Coast—I thought they were rude and unfriendly,” he says. “But the hospital staff members were awesome, from the nurse who searched the hospital for hours to find me a cell phone charger to the security folks who kept checking on Hopper. I wouldn’t have gotten the same level of care back home in Springfield.”

Learn more about Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton here.