2008-10-16 / Local & State

Little Dog, Woman Bond At Hospital Visits

By Chanin Rotz-Mountz STAFF WRITER

John Gracey, Chipper and Tamie Rittenhouse at Chipper's 100th hospital visit John Gracey, Chipper and Tamie Rittenhouse at Chipper's 100th hospital visit Several medals earned by local athlete John Gracey, who has competed in a gamut of sporting events ranging from pole vaulting to triathlons, now hang bedside in the long-term care unit of Fulton County Medical Center where a young woman and former athlete competes in her own battle - a battle against Huntingdon's chorea.

Forty-seven-year-old Tamie Rittenhouse joined the long-term care unit as a resident on July 7, 2007. Not long after her arrival, Tamie, the twin sister of Fort Littleton resident Tawnie House, struck up an unlikely bond and lasting friendship with Gracey and his little dog, Chipper, routine visitors of residents staying at the care unit.

Specially trained for nursing home visits, Chipper made his 100th trip to the long-term care unit last Friday afternoon where he again visited with one of his favorite residents - Tamie Rittenhouse.

Gracey related he was initially unsure if Chipper would approach Tamie due to bouts of severe shaking and movement caused by the disease.

"Chipper never hesitated on that first visit and went straight to Tamie and looked up at her. She controlled her arm enough to lower it and pet Chipper. I knew at that moment we would be visiting Tamie every chance we got," Gracey said.

Still suffering spinal troubles and having had three surgeries, Chipper was encountering difficulties standing on his back legs, making it hard for Tamie and fellow residents to make contact. "It was especially hard for Tamie because her arms are so hard to control. I would give Tamie dog treats, and she would give them to Chipper," stated Gracey, who added he has found himself cutting time with other residents short so he and Chipper could spend additional time with Tamie.

Tamie, Gracey indicated, has often filled his thoughts and earlier in the year at the PA Senior Games, he dedicated his victory and medal in the pole vault in her honor. "It (the medal) now hangs with another one in her room," he said.

Sister Tawnie noted Tamie's joy for Gracey's little dog Chipper doesn't surprise her as she has always been a dog lover. "She just loves Mr. Gracey's visits," she concluded.

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