Monkey Offers Helping Hands

In the world of someone who's paralyzed, everyday tasks can seem impossible. But with the helping hands of a specially trained assistant, a paralysis patient can do a lot, and gain a companion as well. CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan tells the story of a unique pairing of human and animal.

For Becky Thompson, even the most mundane task is a struggle.

A diving accident nearly two decades ago left her legs and hands almost useless. But what they can no longer do, a friend now does instead -- a pair of little hairy helping hands - with a heart as big as their curiosity.

"She can give me medicine. She can give me water," says Thompson.

Kristi has become one of the family.

"There are so many things where she can fulfill in me. That I have to call for help or maybe won't get help," says Becky Thompson, a quadriplegic.

Kristi does a little of everything. Following voice commands with the aid of a red laser, she does the things the rest of us barely even consider a task: picking up a dropped item, turning on or off a light, or tending to an itch that without her would go unscratched.

The idea was the brainchild of a behavioral psychologist whose friend had lost the use of her arms and legs. Since its rather modest beginning some 20 years ago, Helping Hands, a Boston-based non-profit group, has blossomed.

Now, hundreds of monkeys are placed for free in qualified homes around the country.

"These monkeys have never lived outside of the U.S. They are bred specifically for this purpose," says Judi Zazula, Helping Hands executive director.

Their life begins in a foster home with a family willing to live with a young monkey in order to get them used to living with humans.

"They love to play with things and manipulate objects and that's the very skill that people need help with," says Zazula, Helping Hands Executive Director.

They may be the wild's little helpers, but they fill an emotional need too.

Thompson remembers life before the Kristi came into her life.
"Empty. Incredibly empty and quiet, painfully quiet," says Thompson. "I've often described it as going from a black and white photo to color. Everything's clearer. It's brighter."

It's a true bright spot for a lifelong pair who, without a tragedy, never would have met.

If you want to contact Helping Hands/Monkey Helpers, the organization can be reached at (617) 787-4419 or on the Web at

Reported by CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan