A Missouri teen with a rare blood disorder couldn’t stop smiling when her dogs Casper and Thor came to visit her in the hospital.
Emily Reimer, who has spent the last year and a half in inpatient care at hospitals, hadn’t seen her beloved pets since July 2015. But in early October, St. Louis Children’s Hospital reunited the owner with her pooches.
“The look on her face was sheer joy,” Emily’s mother, Amy Reimer, tells PEOPLE. “Seeing them just really lifted her spirits.”
“Seeing them brought new life into her. It was like having a little piece of home come to visit.”
Emily, 19, was diagnosed with diamond-blackfan anemia, a rare bone marrow failure syndrome, when she was an infant, and has been in and out of hospitals her entire life.
“She spent the first 13 years of her life taking steroid pills and when those stopped working she got blood transfusions,” says Amy. “She had blood transfusions for five years, every two weeks, until we decided that a transplant was the best option.”
The teen, who had the bone marrow transplant in July 2015, went on to have open heart surgery. And through it all, she found comfort in seeing pictures and videos of Casper, her 2-year-old Havanese, and Thor, a 6-year-old Standard Poodle.
“We would send her photos of the dogs to her phone,” says Amy. “She asked for them all the time. And if she was up for it, we would FaceTime with the dogs!”
Emily was finally able to reunite (and cuddle and play!) with Casper and Thor at St. Louis Children’s Hospital thanks to their Purina Pet Center, a space where patients and their families are able to see family pets while a child undergoes treatments.
“Studies have shown that spending time with pets can reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue in people with a wide range of health issues, including hospital-bound patients. For the parents of a hospitalized child, seeing their child happy and excited to see their pet can provide some relief during a difficult time,” Philip Becker, development director at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, tells PEOPLE.
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Emily, who breathes through a portable ventilator, is set to go home on October 19. She will require 24-hour care, but her mom is confident that being at her house – surrounded by family and dogs – will lift her spirits.
“When you are inpatient, it gets hard to keep the motivation,” says Amy. “Being with her best friends, her dogs, makes her stronger!
“She loves them so much.”