For Hometown News
MARTIN COUNTY -- High school can be tough for any teen. But 16-year-old Katie O'Brien, a sophomore at South Fork High School, has an even higher sense of anxiety. Diagnosed with epilepsy at age nine, Katie worries that at any moment a seizure could strike -- especially while roaming the halls at high school.
"The concern is not only for the effects of the seizure, but also people's reactions, because there are a lot of misconceptions about what to do while someone is having a seizure and many times people trying to help can be even more dangerous," said Jeri Lynn O'Brien, Katie's mother.
Thankfully, Katie will now have protection when seizures strike thanks to a four-legged friend who will serve as a seizure alert and response dog. The six-month-old Golden Retriever, named Ellie, was received from Noelle's Dogs Four Hope, an organization that trains dogs for people across the country who are in need of a service dog to assist them in their daily life.
It was through a chance encounter that Jeri Lynn learned about Noelle's Dogs Four Hope during a routine day at her job at the Early Learning Coalition of Indian River, Martin and Okeechobee counties.
"I was assisting a client who was clearly having a difficult day and we got to talking and I learned that she also had a child with epilepsy and that they received a service dog from Noelle's Dogs Four Hope," Ms. O'Brien said.
While fully-trained service dogs are cost prohibitive, Noelle's Dogs Four Hope is a more cost-effective option because it provides the training resources to its clients and assists them in training the service dog.
A seizure alert and response dog can be trained to retrieve emergency medicine and a cell phone, get help from someone else who is in the house, lay with the person having a seizure, and hit an alarm to signal for help.
The training process is ongoing and not without its hiccups.
"We noticed that Ellie was having a tough time being at home alone during the day, so my employer, the Early Learning Coalition, allowed me to bring her in during the day throughout her training process and it helped tremendously -- she mostly hid under my desk but being around people is just what she needed," said Ms. O'Brien. Clients at ELC were all notified that there was a service dog onsite, and the only infraction was a couple of "licked toes."
Ellie recently spent a few weeks on campus at South Fork High School during the last weeks at school, and will begin riding the bus along with Katie next year.
"It has been a great experience for Katie and has provided sense of security for our whole family. I am so grateful that Ellie was brought into our lives," said Ms. O'Brien.
The Early Learning Coalition of Indian River, Martin and Okeechobee Counties is responsible for the planning and implementation of school readiness and voluntary pre-kindergarten services in the three-county area.
For more information, visit www.elcirmo.org.