Central Union Church was filled with tears and a celebration of life Wednesday night.
Doctors, nurses, administrators, children and their parents, all in some way connected to Kapiolani Medical Center and all touched by an angel named Tucker.
The therapy dog died unexpectedly in August. Kapiolani Medical Center said Tucker had been diagnosed with cancer and was in remission when he died.
He was 10 years old.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Wendy Hirsch had been Tucker’s mom since the Assistance Dogs of Hawaii gifted him to Kapiolani Medical Center. She describes him as “the best medicine in the world.”
Tucker was trained to help children adjust to being in the hospital, but his gift seemed innate, bringing courage and joy to a child in pain.
“He would jump up in their beds, and he could give comfort to children and families in a way that nobody else could,” said Dr. Roshni Koli, a child psychiatrist. “Tucker had a way of knowing what children needed, and adults, I don’t think it’s unique just to children, but he had a way of providing comfort in just this pure unconditional love.”
Chay Cunningham is now 12 years old, but when she was five, she had to visit Kapiolani Medical Center. The stay itself, she doesn’t remember much, but Tucker, she’ll never forget. “He was soft,” she recalled.
Her father, KHON2’s own Jai Cunningham, remembers it vividly: “She was five years old and she was in the hospital for five days and we didn’t know exactly what was wrong with her. When you’re a kid and you’re 5 years old and you’re in the hospital, it’s not like an adult hospital. When you get an IV, when you get a shot, when you get something and you’re 5, it hurts.”
Jai says Tucker was peace.
“When he would get up on the bed with her, she would have IVs in her arm and she was hurting, and it went away for a little bit,” he said. “If you’ve ever had a sick child, it’s just wonderful to know that for a brief period, they can just be a child and appreciate someone, something — they can appreciate Tucker and how special he was.”
The hospital is accepting donations in Tucker’s memory, which will support the Therapy Dog Program at Kapiolani Medical Center.