The Dogs on Call Therapy Dog Program is designed to enhance the wellbeing of patients in the hospital.
For Eric Waligora, it did that and more – including solidifying his career aspirations.
The Waligora family was living in East Asia when Eric was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood, when he was 10 years old. To ensure the best care, they returned to the U.S. so Eric could get treatment from the oncology team at CHoR. As he battled ALL from fourth through seventh grades, Eric looked forward to the visits from his favorite furry friends through Dogs on Call.
Dogs on Call – Friends with four legs
“I was able to meet several breeds of dogs through this program, such as Stewie the Maltese and Winnie the very tiny Yorkshire Terrier, and it was these animals that made my three-year long treatment period a lot easier,” wrote Eric in his application essay for the Michigan State University 4-H Animal and Veterinary Science Camp. The camp is designed for youth who are interested in exploring animal and veterinary science.
Eric was an animal lover before his experience with cancer. At the age of 2, he had the opportunity to sit on a tiger, at 3 he rode on elephants and when he was not much older held a python during a Thailand night safari – but it was the dogs who helped him through his toughest days that confirmed his desire to be a veterinarian.
He went on to write, “By being able to participate in the MSU 4-H Animal and Veterinary Science Camp and gaining the experience needed to become a vet in my future, I hope to return the favor and help animals in their times of need.”
Eric was accepted to the camp, but it was later canceled for safety reasons related to COVID-19.
Looking at cancer in the rearview mirror
Eric’s last chemo treatment took place on July 14, 2017. Now entering his fourth year post-cancer, he is a rising junior earning straight As at his international school in Seoul, South Korea. He’s also a member of the varsity badminton team, a history buff on the academic quiz bowl team and first chair alto saxophone in the school band.
He’s grown a lot – in height and life experience – since his diagnosis in 2014. At 5’11” tall, he likes healthy food and exercising and has a very positive outlook on life. He continues to have perfect checkups with his oncologist in South Korea, which he now only has to do twice a year. His best buddy and personal therapy dog, Kohl, has certainly helped too.
“We bought Kohl in East Asia right before Eric got sick with leukemia. Kohl, a Teddy Bear Poodle, has been by Eric’s side through all his hardships. He’s lived in three different countries and understands words in three different languages,” said Eric’s dad, Jeff.
Grateful for the past, planning for the future
With Kohl still by his side today, Eric remains grateful for all of the dogs who helped him recover from major procedures and lifted his spirits when they were low. He still has the cards and pictures of each Dogs on Call dog who visited him.
“We’re so glad Eric was treated so well at CHoR and again so thankful they have the Dogs on Call program for children (and adults) in need. They really do provide therapy.”
Eric will re-apply to the MSU summer camp next year and continues to plan for his bright future ahead. After graduating from high school in June 2022, he hopes to study pre-veterinary studies/biology back in the U.S. at Cornell, University of California-Davis, Michigan State or Tufts. If his past accomplishments are any indication of his future success, “Dr. Waligora” will be changing the lives of animals for the better at a veterinary practice in the years to come.