Canine Colleague Helps Her Find a New Leash on Life

Story by Maggie Werner

Madeleine, left, and Melissa O’Neill often have pets, Violet and Luna, close by. Photo by Rusty Kimball.

It was a life-altering medical diagnosis and her mother’s experience in the field that helped Madeleine O’Neill decide healthcare would be a good career for her.

It also introduced the patient service coordinator — diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a cardiac condition causing her to faint when changing position — to Violet, her service dog.

“Trained to detect changes in my sweat, Violet gives me crucial 10-minute warnings before an episode by tapping on my leg,” Madeleine explains.

Initially restricted by her diagnosis, Madeleine is now able to live independently, work full-time and enjoy activities like skiing and hiking because of Violet’s role as a cardiac alert.

At work, however, Violet’s job extends beyond assisting Madeleine.

“My colleagues were uncertain at first, but Violet’s presence gradually became a source of comfort, boosting morale in our office and fostering a sense of camaraderie,” she adds.

Through Madeleine’s journey, another influence has been her mother, Melissa O’Neill, a hematology/oncology APRN. It was actually Melissa’s passion for healing that introduced them to Luna, a therapy dog, and Violet’s mother. Luna, once a breeding dog for Hop River Shepherds, became a therapy dog for Hartford HealthCare colleagues.

Outside her demanding job, Melissa volunteers with Luna at HHC, bringing comfort to patients and a therapeutic touch to colleagues.

“Luna quickly became beloved within the HHC community,” Melissa says.

While the mother-daughter duos are connected, understanding the distinct differences between therapy dog and service dog is crucial.

A service dog, like Violet, is meticulously trained to perform specific tasks for a person with a disability,” Madeleine explains. For Violet, this means detecting changes in Madeleine’s physiology and offering timely alerts.

“A therapy dog like Luna,” Melissa adds, “provides comfort and companionship to groups of people.”

Luna’s gentle demeanor and ability to connect with individuals, she says, contribute to a positive environment.

Volunteer or visit with a dog

Interested in volunteering with a pet therapy dog or want to request visits in your department Contact Eileen Pelletier, director of volunteer services at Hartford Hospital,

A New Nurse — Just Like Dad

Story by Elissa Bass

Generations of caring — Hannah was inspired by her father, Brian, following him into the nursing field — and into the East Region.

Hannah Brewer was in middle school 15 years ago when her father, Brian, changed careers, going from mental health counselor at a group home to registered nurse.

“Watching him do that made me start thinking about what I wanted to be,” she says. “I would watch him sit there and struggle through those textbooks and I’d read along with him.”

Turns out she followed in his footsteps, graduating from Three Rivers Community College with a degree in nursing and starting her career in 2023 in the Backus Hospital Emergency Department.

Brian works on the medical/surgical floor at Windham Hospital.

The two came together professionally for the first time last fall for the East Region’s competency day at Backus. Brian calls it an important “dad” moment.

“I’m really proud of Hannah,” he says. “I’m so glad she took after my interest. It’s exciting to see my daughter on a professional level. It was really cool. She’s my colleague. She’s my equal.”

“It was nice,” Hannah agrees, although adding, “I wish he had worn his scrubs because then we would’ve matched.”

Hannah started her healthcare career as an EMT, which is how she knew she wanted to be a nurse in the Emergency Department.

“I like organized chaos!” she says. As she watched her father study to become a registered nurse, “I originally thought I would one-up him and become a doctor, but I ended up going to nursing school.”

“Hannah!” Brian jokes. “Nursing is not a step down from being a doctor. It’s a step up!”

“Well, I know that now,” she replies with a laugh. “Now I have perspective.”

Twenty Years of Improving Health in the Community

Story by Anne Rondepierre

Established in 2003, the Health Improvement Alliance (HIA) is well into its 20th year improving the health of our neighbors.

A coalition of St. Vincent’s Medical Center, Bridgeport Hospital and seven departments of public health, federally qualified health centers and community and non-profit organizations, HIA’s mission and vision is working together to identify, prioritize and measurably improve the health of the community through prevention, education and services.

Holding Court

Auriemma awarded a piece of Hartford Hospital history

Story by Elissa Bass

Show a little enthusiasm, will ya? — Theresa Buss, vice president of colleague benefits and services and a huge UConn fan, was selected to present Geno Auriemma, coach of the school’s women’s basketball team, with the first piece salvaged from the former Barney gymnasium at Hartford Hospital. Photo by Chris Rakoczy.

After speaking on his leadership style at the Hartford HealthCare Leadership Summit in February, Geno Auriemma, head coach of the University of Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team, was given a literal piece of history in a section of the gymnasium floor from the former D. Newton Barney Educational Building at Hartford Hospital.

The Barney building was built in 1931 to support the hospital’s growing physician and nursing training programs. The same year, a gymnasium and swimming pool became available for student recreation, physical education and physical therapy. It was demolished in 2014 to make way for Hartford HealthCare’s Center for Education, Simulation and Innovation (CESI) at 22 Jefferson St.

In February, Auriemma became the second most winning coach in all Division 1 (men or women’s) basketball. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.

Old school — Hartford Hospital nurses in Barney gym, circa 1930s.

Two Decades of Success

At its inception in 2003, there were five people at the HIA table. In 2023, more than 90 celebrated the group’s 20th anniversary.


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