4-Legged Comfort

Birmingham, AL, (April 26, 2016) – 3-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart knows it takes heart, drive and determination to overcome adversity on the track. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is at Talladega Superspeedway racing on Sunday, May 1. Smoke is making his 2nd appearance behind the wheel of the No. 14 Chevrolet having worked hard to overcome his back injury sustained January 31.

Stewart knows a person needs a motivator, a cheerleader or a friend to help soldier through the difficult times when recovering from an injury or facing a critical illness. It’s but one reason why Hand in Paw, based in Birmingham, AL, is one of Tony’s “Grant Accelerator” Charities. Hand in Paw (HIP) is in the business of providing animal-assisted therapy teams to make a hospital stay just a bit brighter for a child. In 2015, HIP logged 97,000 interactions – bringing their healing 4-legged comfort to hundreds of children who simply need a bit more courage delivered through a furry friend. Children like Hunter.

Hunter was a happy 14-year-old boy, when what seemed like a nagging cold turned into a nightmare. The doctors call it dilated cardiomyopathy – —his heart was enlarged and failing, and he needed a new one. To qualify for a transplant, Hunter had to first get better. Surgeons installed a temporary heart pump to keep him alive during the weeks of grueling physical therapy that would prepare him for the new heart. But following surgery, Hunter simply didn’t have it in him emotionally or physically to do his therapy. The staff at Children’s of Alabama realized they needed help motivating Hunter, so they called in a Hand in Paw Therapy Team: Tina Currie and her Shetland Sheepdog, Chivas.

Tina says of the first time she met Hunter, “He could hardly lift his head or sit up. But when he saw Chivas, he managed a slight smile.” As a result of the positive impact Chivas had on Hunter, the hospital staff set physical therapy goals for him to complete, and used visits with Chivas as a reward. “Each time we visited, we could see a profound difference in Hunter’s attitude and demeanor,” recalled Tina. During the course of their visits, Hunter went from bedridden, to sitting up, to using a wheelchair, to walking. Over several months, Hunter met all the goals the staff at Children’s of Alabama had set for him. Now he is healthy enough to be on the heart transplant list. When he felt defeated, he found hope in a little dog. Because of Tina and Chivas, Hunter has strength, exceptional friends, and a lot more hope.

TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing & President of The Tony Stewart Foundation:

What motivated you to start your foundation to help children, animals and drivers injured in the sport of motor racing?

I’ve been extremely lucky to pursue a racing career in its many forms. My foundation provides the vehicle to give back to others experiencing difficulty or trauma. It was easy to select children with critical illness or physical disabilities along with animals that are at-risk as I’m a big “softie” for both. And, including drivers injured in the sport of motor racing was essential as I certainly know the risks involved.

Why is the Hand in Paw ‘Petscription’ Program important?

As an adult who has had to go through therapy twice in 3 years – first my shattered leg in 2013 and then my back this winter & spring, I know first hand that it’s hard and you need motivation to stick with it. The Petscription Program brings a furry friend in to a child’s hospital room to help reduce their anxiety or their fear. The handler-animal team is under the direction of medical staff so there’s a plan to help each child individually. I learned there’s a waiting list of over 100 medical centers and schools wanting the Petscription Program. That speaks volumes about its importance and its success.

How, exactly, does your foundation assist organizations like Hand in Paw?

My foundation exists solely to provide funding grants to outstanding organizations throughout the United States. Since 2004 when the first grant was awarded, we have provided $6.5 million in funding. We receive a large number of applications and are able to select about 100 of the very best charities serving children, animals and drivers.

To be selected a “TSF Grant Partner”, the organization must present a unique program or service along with solid financial stability and a way to measure success. Our TSF Slogan is “Accelerating Change” which mostly means that our funding grant is intended to help move a program or service to the next level.

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