Therapy Sheep Help Girl With Rare Disease

By: Jacki Ochoa Email
By: Jacki Ochoa Email

We've heard of dogs and horses being used for emotional and physical therapy, but what about sheep? Therapy sheep are changing lives at a Papillion farm and helping a little girl with a big heart.

“Hi buddy, hi buddy." Emily Koesters, diagnosed with form of dwarfism, isn't afraid of big sheep. “She kind of has her own way of talking to them,” says her mom, Erin Koesters.

Emily visited the True Buddy Farms in Papillion for therapy. It's part of Kathy Mann's nonprofit "Luv A Lamb" program. “They don't kick, they don't bite, they make a wonderful animal for kids of all different ages and sizes and all different abilities."

Emily is one of those special kids. Her struggles began in 2008 when she experienced renal failure and received a kidney transplant from her dad. “It was very successful, but things were still happening with her and she came up with cancer, lymphoma, and it wouldn't go away, it came back again so she had it twice within a year,” says Erin.

Family and doctors wondered what was at the root of Emily's problems. "We discovered she had Schimke Immunoosseous Dysplasia or SIOD for short and it is a very rare genetic dwarfism disease,” says Erin. “She is one of four people in the United States who has it." Only 45 people worldwide suffer from the medical condition. Many more likely die before diagnosis.

Nine-year-old Emily stands 41 inches tall and weighs 41 pounds. Because of the disease she has hip dysplasia and osteoporosis.

“She needs to keep moving because the less that she does the more rigid and stiff her body will become,” says Erin. Plus, the sheep are more entertaining than typical physical therapy. “She just really communicates with them through her heart."

A little girl with a big heart and though she needs so much, she still has a lot to give.

SIOD also impacts the bones and causes infections and stroke. Most patients pass away before their teens. Researchers in Canada recently uncovered a medical breakthrough. They cloned another patient's genes and believe their work with a drug for Muscular Dystrophy can give children with SIOD and other genetic diseases longer lives. The work though is costly. They need $3.5 million.

If you can help Emily with a tax-free donation, visit

A Little Giants fundraiser with food and music will be held Saturday, February 16th from 6-11 p.m. at the Sarpy County Fairgrounds, 100 Main Street in Springfield, Nebraska.

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