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Hospital dog inspires teen to give back to M Health Fairview Masonic Children's Hospital after surgery – CBS Minnesota

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/ CBS Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS — A patient at M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital is raising funds and awareness for a program that comforted her during life-saving surgery and recovery.
Thirteen-year-old Ellie Bekkerus presented staff at the hospital Monday with a check from her fundraising efforts in honor of the hospital dog who supported her.
“You guys have done so much for me and so I wanted to do something for you guys,” Ellie said.
It was a heartfelt, give-back moment, and a heartwarming reunion. Her visit this day was as a donor and not a patient.
“I had heart surgery at the hospital back here in April. And I have dogs at home that I was missing, and these dogs have done so much,” Ellie said.
She has a rare chromosomal disorder called Turner syndrome. When she had heart complications and had to undergo open heart surgery in April, she formed an unbreakable bond with Fern.
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“Even before surgery she was really nervous and she just kept saying, ‘I want to see the dog. As soon as I get out, I got to see this dog,'” said mom Kaylie Bekkerus.
When she came out of the ICU, Fern was there.
“Ellie was still really sick at that time and was having a tough time keeping anything down. But as soon as she saw her, she lit up. The dog jumped right up in bed with her and snuggled right in and it was like they had known each other their whole life,” Kaylie said.
As she gained strength following a successful surgery, Ellie walked Fern around the hospital unit. Her love of the pooches in the facility dog program led to a bond with Minnesota Gopher defensive back Coleman Bryson.  
“Coleman was also here when I had surgery. He was doing a bingo with the dogs and I had won. And so my parents were trying to get me to come out of bed and they were like, ‘Why don’t we go down there and see if we can talk to the players afterward,'” Ellie said.
The two share a love of football as Ellie plays on her middle school team. 
“I play defensive tackle,” she said.
Her resilience and spirit impress Coleman.
“No matter what she’s dealing with you wouldn’t be able to tell I don’t think, and the way she goes about life and just bringing joy into other people’s lives, I think is something that’s so special,” Coleman said.
That joy is evident when Ellie comes back to the hospital.
“When Ellie comes in for her follow-up visits in clinic, we’ll meet her in the lobby space. Ellie is really good at engaging in Fern’s cues and commands,” said Phylicia Petit, certified child life specialist and handler at M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital.
In October, Fern and Phylicia accompanied Ellie and her family as she was honored as a Goldy’s Hero at a Gophers game.
“I got teary-eyed. That day in itself was so emotional,” Kaylie said.
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On the way home from that experience, Ellie’s fundraiser was born.
“It was called ‘Dogs for Dogs.’ It was at our local high school. We had hot dogs and puppy chow and some other stuff. Then we had a silent auction,” Ellie said. 
Her efforts in her hometown of Twin Valley raised $1,200 for the facility dog program at Masonic, which currently has three dogs who were raised and trained by Can Do Canines, the largest provider of assistance dogs in Minnesota. 
While that money could be used to train additional dogs to comfort patients like her, Ellie wants some of it earmarked for her friend. 
“Hopefully Fern will be able to get a lot of toys,” Ellie said.
The facility dog program at Masonic Children’s launched in 2019.
Along with playing football like her friend Coleman, Ellie also plays softball and basketball.
She’s planning on making her “Dogs for Dogs” fundraiser an annual tradition.
Derek James anchors Saturday and Sunday evening newscasts and contributes stories during the week on “The 4.”
First published on December 18, 2023 / 5:40 PM CST
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