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Boy becomes pen pals with therapy dog

Van the Man, one of Children's Health's eight therapy dogs, made a huge difference for Oscar.

Hospitals can be a scary place for any child, but Oscar Bennedsen has come to expect the pokes, and sometimes, the pain.

At nine years old, he's had two prolonged hospital stays and multiple check-ups.

"I'm nervous and kind of scared because I think I'm going to get shots, which I hate," said Oscar, as a nurse checked his blood pressure at Children's Health.

Oscar's first time in the hospital was three years ago when he went into a coma. That's when his family first realized he has a rare neurological disorder called transverse myelitis.

"I felt like I was paralyzed," said Oscar. "I was asleep for 10 days."

When Oscar did wake up, a new friend was waiting for him on his hospital bed. Van the Man, one of Children's Health's eight therapy dogs, made a huge difference for Oscar.

"We were like, 'There's dogs here? Then I got really excited!' Oscar remembered. "Since then, me and Van have been very good friends."

After Oscar was released from the hospital, he begged his mom for a golden retriever of his own. He had pictures of his dog printed on a pair of Vans shoes.

So it only makes sense that when Oscar landed back at Children's, three years later, right after Christmas, Van the dog was the one thing that helped him get through.

"I kept on thinking about him. And I was like, 'Okay, if I think about him, this day will go faster,'" said Oscar.

Oscar had to be quarantined for ten days, and couldn't pet or play with Van. With the help of his handler, Van started writing letters to Oscar, and leaving them at his hospital door.

"This was the last one, and my favorite," said Oscar, pointing to a picture of Oscar at a computer keyboard. "This is proof that he wrote it himself."

Of course, Oscar wrote back, and the two became pen pals. Oscar was released from the hospital a few weeks ago, and he's never stopped thinking about Van.

Which is why, on a day he thought he was coming in for a checkup, he got a big surprise.Van was waiting for him, and Oscar's face lit up.

"Hi, Van!" he exclaimed, opening his arms and walking toward him. The two friends hugged for a long time.

"I missed you," said Oscar. It was a moment Oscar wanted for the last three years.

"It feels like my life has just begun," said Oscar. "I've waited a long time for this."

"Doesn't my face say just everything," said mom, Signe Bennedsen, fighting back tears. "It's just so important. Every time we drive by the hospital, he talks about Van."

"It's powerful," said Amanda Ammons, child life specialist and Van's primary handler. "They can provide this level of comfort and support that the staff can't."

"I think of him as my brother," said Oscar.

A brother, a best friend, and the best medicine a little boy could get. You can follow Van on Instagram at @Van_The_Man15.

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