Joe Tasby walked into the emergency room along with his faithful guide dog, Cupid. It was mid-March, and he thought he’d be home in a matter of days. But his hospital stay ended up lasting weeks. And when the coronavirus pandemic hit, no one could come into the hospital to care for Cupid.
Leave it to nurse – and dog lover – Barbara Borbeck to save the day.
ER visit turns serious
Tasby, who is blind, went to HCA Healthcare’s Southern Hills Hospital in Las Vegas thinking he had torn a shoulder tendon lifting weights.
“I thought I’d be able to just walk out in three days, but it ended up being 20,” the Vietnam veteran told CNN.
But when doctors evaluated the 70-year-old, they discovered lung disease and heart arrhythmia. He was admitted immediately. Cupid stayed by his side.
“We are a team,” he explained. “I’m not right if he’s not with me, and he’s not right if I’m not with him.”
Tasby began losing his vision five years ago, the result of glaucoma and diabetes. Guide Dogs for the Blind set him up with Cupid last year.
During the first few days in the hospital, Tasby’s daughter Tiffini came by to feed and walk Cupid. But things changed with the pandemic. Southern Hills Hospital locked down, banned visitors and Tasby worried about how to care for his yellow Labrador retriever.
“My first thought was, how was I going to take care of him?”
“Barbara stepped up and said, ‘You don’t worry about that. I will take care of that for you,’” Tasby recalled.
For nearly three weeks, Borbeck walked, fed and cared for Cupid. She even enlisted other hospital staff to help out on her days off.
“She was incredible; it was a big weight off of my shoulders,” Tasby said.
A nurse going above and beyond
Beyond her deep love for animals, Borbeck has a professional respect for Cupid’s role caring for her patient.
“I realized that the team would really need to focus on Joe, and Cupid would need care while he was here supporting Joe,” said Borbeck.
“With the kind of work Cupid does, it’s important that he’s not getting ill and that we maintain his normality.”
When the yellow Lab ran out of his specialized dog food, the self-proclaimed animal lover went on a mission to find it. After four failed trips to local grocery stores with barren shelves from panic buying, the nurse took a 40-minute drive to a specialty store to ensure Cupid had the right dinner.
“Barb is extremely humble,” said Southern Hills Director of Marketing Cyndi Lundeberg.
“She didn’t just take the dog around the hospital, she took Cupid home and to our national park so he could get outdoors.”
Cupid answers the call of duty
Although Borbeck is the star of this tale, she said Cupid deserves some shine as well.
“I wish everyone could get to know Cupid because he’s got a great personality.”
With the hospital on lockdown, therapy dogs have not been making their rounds. Cupid dashed in to help.
“Just connecting with therapy dogs really aids in recovery and helps all of us as staff.”
On some of her daily walks, Borbeck visited other departments with Cupid, which she says brought lots of smiles during this pandemic.
“You should have seen the smiles on everyone’s faces; it just lightened their day.”
From one hero to another
Tasby and his Lab finally headed home April 1 after 21 days in the hospital.
“It was emotional,” said Borbeck.
“Joe is such an amazing man and Cupid – he’s my buddy. We are happy they are going home, but I’m so looking forward to visiting Joe and Cupid again when things open back up.”
Tasby says it isn’t just the physical healing he is grateful for – it’s the compassion of the heroes among us.
“If you find somebody at the right time doing the right thing, that’s Barbara,” Tasby made clear.
“Being a Vietnam veteran, I recognize heroes when I see them,” he said.
“We have so many frontline heroes. When a frontline individual goes above and beyond like that, you feel it deep inside your heart.”
“What do you say to a person who goes above and beyond like that?” Tasby wondered. “I spent a lot of time volunteering and helping veterans, and when I see something like this turn back towards me, it leaves me speechless.”