Wearing her trademark pink bow and a precious smile, Tessa Puma walked around the courtyard of Akron Children's Hospital with the assistance of a walker, a physical therapist assistant and a Siberian mix named Gracie.
Tessa loves how "soft and cuddly" the dog feels and also senses a special connection to her. Gracie only has three legs.
The 6-year-old Northfield girl, who lost her leg to a rare infection, also works with another therapy dog, a Golden Retriever named Rudy. He has a prosthetic leg.
On Monday, Tessa was fitted for a prosthetic leg. It still needs some perfecting until she can walk with it sometime next week.
In the meantime, Tessa really enjoys walking with the dogs to improve her balance and stamina.
In addition, the therapy dogs also help her build strength in her arm. The infection forced doctors to remove a muscle from her shoulder.
"I throw the dog some treats and I throw the ball and then they catch," she said.
A few months ago, Tessa developed strep throat which moved through her bloodstream and became a bacterial soft tissue infection, according to doctors.
The infection was so severe that the kindergartner—known as an excellent dancer and gymnast—almost died.
On April 1, surgeons at Akron children's removed her leg to save her life.
Dr. Chelsea Weyand, a pediatric psychologist, said in addition to the physical therapy benefits, the dogs help distract Tessa from physical and emotional pain.
"She has a great spirit. She is motivated to get back to all of the things that she did before," Dr. Weyand said.
Turranna Rice, a physical therapist assistant who works with Tessa, said the girl's confidence is growing because of the noticeable connection she shares with Gracie and Rudy.
"One of the things she said was she wants to meet someone else that has the same challenges as herself. Not only did she get an opportunity to meet another kid that had a prosthetic, but also a dog," Rice said.
Tessa also benefits from petting a calm pony named Petie that also visits other kids at Akron Children's Hospital.
"He's so soft," Tessa said as she looked into the pony's eyes.
Tessa's parents and therapists are confident that she will return to gymnastics and dance once she adjusts to her prosthetic leg.
Tessa said she's excited about getting back to the sports she loves and is ready to work hard to meet her goals.
"A lot of stretching, definitely," she said. "I'm excited about it."