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San Luis Obispo nurse Elissa Molfino is used to caring for her patients, but her patients’ pets, not so much.

But that’s what happened when she volunteered to do when a patient who’d suffered a bad fall showed up at the French Hospital Medical Center .

Molfino can now add crisis dog rescuer to her resume and the title of Nurse of the Week.

Patient Michael Walsh, 79, took a sudden tumble down his stairs. He had “no recollection of climbing the stairs, feeling faint” or having what doctors and first responders call a “syncopal episode” or a sudden fall. 

Walsh has polyneuropathy due to Type 2 diabetes which gives him balance issues. “I am very careful on my stairs, always using the handrails, and have never tripped or fallen” during his 23 years there.

After crawling up the stairs with his 8-year-old golden retriever Rebel, he took two Tylenol and went to bed with trusty, worried Rebel beside him. Walsh said he didn’t sleep because of his apparent head injury and hoped the pain would subside.

The pain didn’t subside, and a day later, Walsh drove himself to the hospital for what he had expected to be a quick ER visit for X-rays or tests. Walsh took Rebel with him as he headed for French Hospital’s ER because nobody else was home. 

Molfino Recruits Family to Help 

The doctors’ initial analysis of Walsh’s condition made them too concerned to let him go home, let alone drive himself there. So that meant Rebel would continue to be stuck in the hospital parking lot in Walsh’s 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee, with plenty of water, food, toys, and plenty of air through the vehicle’s open windows, but leaving a worried Walsh in the ER with no apparent options in sight.

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Molfino, who’s been at French Hospital for ten years, had started her shift that day as a triage nurse in the ER. She did Walsh’s intake interview, collecting initial data for the attending physician and coordinating all the tests the doctor wanted to perform. Later in her workday, she switched to being a floor nurse, which put her back on Walsh’s case again.

nurse-of-the-week-elissa-molfino-cares-for-patients-dog

French Hospital nurse Elissa Molfino, center, and her children Gwen, 16, and Gabe Molfino, 14, of San Luis Obispo, wound up dog-sitting a beloved golden retriever belonging to Michael Walsh of Cambria. He’d gone to the emergency room to be checked out after a fall, but didn’t think he’d be admitted to the hospital and was unable to care for the pet waiting for him in the car. Photo Credit: The Tribune

When Walsh became so agitated and determined to care for Rebel that he signed himself out of the hospital against the physician’s advice, Molfino regretfully wheeled Walsh out to his vehicle, as protocol requires.

However, when her patient tried to get out of the wheelchair, she said it quickly became apparent that it wouldn’t be safe for him to drive.

Thinking quickly, Molfino talked Walsh into coming back inside, telling him she’d take care of the dog. She describes Rebel as the sweetest old golden retriever, the cutest dog, and the easiest dog to dog-sit.

As a nurse who works long shifts, she needed to enlist some help. Fortunately, the Molfino home is close to the hospital.

No Hesitation to Help

She explained Walsh’s predicament to her kids, Gwen, 16, and Gabe, 14, and her lifelong friend and current roommate, Carly Johnson. They immediately stepped up, got to know Rebel and Mike, and visited in the ER room with the dog and Mike for a while to make him feel a little more comfortable about the solution they were proposing for Rebel. They would keep the dog at their house until Walsh could go home.

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Walsh recalls the meet-and-greet session as a “mutual love fest” and repeatedly expressed his gratitude.

“I am beyond blessed and grateful for Elissa and her family and how they solved my dilemma,” says Walsh. “OMG, this was the kindest gesture I have ever received! I was beyond grateful, and so was my boy.”

That boy is the dog he describes as his “8-year-old, faithful companion golden retriever Rebel.”

“His whole thing was about his dog,” says Molfino. “Rebel is his whole world. He even has a ‘who rescued who?’ bumper sticker on the back of his car.”

Molfino Is ‘Typical of Our Staff’

“To me, it was very simple, something other nurses have done and would do again,” says Molfino. “Mike is so sweet. I’m so glad it blessed him and made such an impression on him. But I’m hesitant to be considered a hero. Most of my coworkers would have done the same thing.” 

Sara San Juan, the spokesperson for Dignity Health, agreed. What Molfino did was exceptional, she said, yet “so typical of our staff. They’re so giving, so kind, such caretakers.” 

She says that Molfino’s actions that day might not have been that unusual because staffers often go out of their way to help patients. 

“I love my job, coworkers, this hospital,” says Molfino. “I think it’s the best job in the world. We get to be there for people in those intense moments that matter when somebody has no other options. We have a chance to have intimacy with people that we would never have otherwise. I love what I do … but I work with 20 other nurses who would do the same thing.”

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Nominate a Nurse of the Week! Every Wednesday, DailyNurse.com features a nurse making a difference in the lives of their patients, students, and colleagues. We encourage you to nominate a nurse who has impacted your life as the next Nurse of the Week, and we’ll feature them online and in our weekly newsletter.

Renee Hewitt
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