Alex, a chestnut Appendix Quarter Horse gelding, was one of two horses from Pacific Riding for Developing Abilities (PRDA) transported to Surrey Memorial Hospital’s parking lot Tuesday to visit with long-term patient Jim Clarkson. Jim had volunteered at PRDA for more than 20 years. Submitted photo

Langley horses’ visit makes for unforgettable experience for hospital patient

Jim Clarkson’s day was brightened considerably on Tuesday

The midday sun warmed Jim Clarkson’s face Tuesday afternoon as he was wheeled backwards into the parking lot of Surrey Memorial Hospital (SMH).

When his bed was turned around and he saw two therapeutic horses — Alex and Dodger — his heart warmed and tears ran down his face.

Clarkson has always had a soft spot for horses — and people with disabilities. For more than 20 years, he volunteered with Langley’s Pacific Riding for Developing Abilities, a south Langley organization that since 1973 has provided therapeutic horseback riding to individuals with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities.

He started off conducting classes and as he got older, Clarkson began running the PRDA’s barn, bringing horses in, grooming them, tacking them, and getting them ready for classes.

“His love of horses brought him to us,” said Karen Nishiyama, the volunteer co-ordinator and administrative co-ordinator with PRDA.

But Clarkson’s health took a turn for the worse and he was admitted to SMH.

“He went in for a perforated ulcer,” his daughter Tracey said.

“For the first three months it was very touch-and-go. He was really, really sick. He had his last surgery on Saturday and we’re just waiting to see how long it’s going to take before he can come home.”

Tuesday was the first time Clarkson had been outside since he entered the hospital five months ago.

Seeing the horses, feeding them an apple, having them nuzzle their faces into him was an unforgettable experience.

“(Jim has a) heart of gold,” Nishiyama said. “He instantly cried the second he saw them. He was hooked up to every machine you can imagine and all he cared about was those two horses.”

Among those who watched the emotional scene were Nishiyama, Tracey, and the PRDA’s Michelle Ingall (executive director) Margo Klassen (head riding instructor), Bill Hendricks (volunteer co-ordinator), and Rick Gammer (volunteer and director).

“We were crying before we even got there,” Nishiyama said. “Then, when they brought him out he had no idea this was happening. So they brought him out backwards, and then they turned him around and we were standing there with the two horses. His family was there, and so many people from the hospital were there… when we pulled in with the horse trailer, his daughter was crying right away.”

“We all bawled; we all cried, even my dad,” Tracey said.

What matters to you?

This is likely the first time horses have been brought to SMH to visit a patient. The unique idea came about when Nishiyama received a call last Friday (June 2) from ShelleyLynn Gardner, a rehabilitation assistant at SMH. They spoke about ‘What Matters To You? Day,’ a popular incentive that’s been adopted by different hospitals.

‘What Matters to You? Day’ started in Norway in 2014, with the goal of encouraging meaningful conversations between patients, caregivers, and families, and their health care providers.

“They go to long-term patients and they ask, ‘What matters to you? What’s important to you?’ And Jim said, ‘horses,’” Nishiyama related.

PRDA had planned on bringing a couple of miniature horses to the hospital. “Then we thought, ‘No, we’re going to bring our big guys,” Nishiyama said. “So they cordoned off a section of the parking lot for us, and that was it.”

Tracey expressed her deepest gratitude to everyone who made the day happen.

“I can’t thank them enough,” she said. “It was so wonderful to just experience that. It was great, really great. It was something my dad will never, ever, ever forget.”