Angel Dog Therapy

Brain Injury
angel dog madonna rehabilitation hospital physical therapy traumatic brain injury rehab
Joseph Franklin’s world came crashing down in December. The 34-year-old suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of a major fall on the job. Through an Angel Dog named Louie, the Missouri native is getting back to his life.


Joseph Franklin is getting to know four-year-old Louie. The Yellow Lab is part of his therapy at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln. “He’s a Shepherd and he’s a 100-pound dog. He’s very outgoing. He always wants to play with another animal. He loves me. He’s very protective and in Kansas City, if he didn’t like a person walking down the street, he’d let you know," says Joseph.

Franklin’s referring to his own dog, Apollo, back home in Missouri. In December, Franklin fell on the job, suffering a traumatic brain injury. “Working in an old filling station and fell off some scaffolding. I had brain surgery right away,” he says. The accident left Franklin unable to remember the day of the accident or much after surgery. A patient at Centerpoint Medical Center, he transferred to Madonna Rehabilitation Specialty Care Hospital just before the New Year. "I woke up. I didn’t know where I was at and I was like, “Where am I at?” and she’s like, ‘Nebraska.’ and I’m like, “What are we doing in Nebraska?”

Since waking up, Franklin’s been hard at work. He wears a helmet to protect his head as it continues to heal and daily works with physical and occupational therapists to get back to activities he enjoyed before the accident-like walking Apollo. “They’re kind of buddies and when talking to his mom that was
one of the first things she said ask him what his dog’s name is because he was kind of out of it, didn’t really know a lot, but it was the one question he knew the answer to so we knew it was important from the very beginning.”

Practice walking Angel Dogs like Louie helps Franklin with balance and strength. Judy Burke is Louie’s handler and part of the Angel Dog Leadership team. The program has a number of dedicated volunteers who have gone through special training to help patients feel comfortable and confident being around man’s best friend. “He needs to get around his home and tripping or running into things. And with a dog in your hand, it may not be completely controlled or maybe has a mind of its own, we need to make sure he has the balance to not have another fall or become more injured or re-injured,” said Sydney Fleege, an occupational therapist for Madonna.

For Franklin, he’s moving forward to get back home and the life the he knows—which includes his own four-legged pooch, his fiancé and eventually work. "Mainly working on my legs and on my arms, getting my body back in shape."

“We went into some harder things, challenging his balance and of course those both play into walking a dog every day. It’s part of his daily routine so we like to get people back to how they came in before their accident," says Fleege.