by Sue Ann Rybak
Before Alison Brady received her first seizure alert dog in 2004 from Canine Partners for Life, she felt as if she was being held hostage by her disability. “At that time in my life, I was having like 100 seizures a month,” said Brady, who was diagnosed with AVM (Arteriovenous Malformations, or abnormal connections between arteries and veins) when she was five years old. “My life was very different.”
Brady, 45, vividly recalled when suffering from her second stroke at the age of five. “I was getting another piercing headache that was so bad I just curled up on our love seat crying,” she said.
Later that night Alison drifted in and out of consciousness as her body convulsed violently. “I remember I was wrapped up in a blanket my mother made and rushed off.”
Brady was rushed to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to have emergency brain surgery. It was then that the surgeons discovered a two-centimeter AVM. “The doctors told my parents they didn’t think I was going to live,” Brady said. “They put in an inter-cranial bolt that is a drain and put me in a barbiturate coma to lower my body temperature and decrease the pressure and swelling in my brain.”
After the 28-hour surgery, Brady woke up in the intensive care unit to discover she had a shaved head and 144 stitches that ran from her temple to her jawline. Since then Brady has suffered from chronic seizures, muscle weakness, migraines, dizziness and memory problems. Brady’s seizures forced her to be confined to her house. Everyday activities such as walking to the park, climbing the stairs and taking the bus alone often resulted in severe injuries.
“Getting a service dog is probably the best thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Brady, who lives in Brewerytown with her husband Jimmy and 14-year-old daughter, Grace. Thanks to volunteers like Michael and Linda Dzuba, of Mt. Airy, and Mariana Sorenson, of Chestnut Hill. Brady’s life is “Wynnderful.” For the last two and half years, Dzuba and his wife have participated in Canine Partners for Life’s puppy raising program.
“Wynn is pretty in tune with how I am feeling,” said Brady, referring to her three-year-old Labrador Retriever named Wynn from Canine Partners for Life (CPL), an organization dedicated to training service dogs, home companion dogs and residential companion dogs to assist individuals who have a wide range of physical and cognitive disabilities. (Based in Cochranville, PA, CPL has been providing these services for more than 20 years.) Wynn is a seizure and diabetic service dog. He alerts her for seizures, migraines, changes in blood sugar and severe vertigo.
Recently, Brady went to a friend’s house to get her hair cut when Wynn alerted her to a seizure. “Wynn was lying on the floor next to my chair when suddenly he stood up and put his head on my knee and then both paws,” Brady said. “My friend said ‘What is going on with your dog?’ I told him I might have a seizure in seven minutes. And roughly five minutes later, my arms started to shake, and my speech started to go.”
There have been times when Wynn will literally lay his whole body on Brady to get her to stop. If she is walking down the street, he will stop right in front of her and refuse to move. “Before I got my first service dog Hunter in 2004, I was inside a lot of the time,” said Brady, who has a Masters in Art Education. “When I got my service dog, it didn’t matter if I had seizures. I felt so much more secure because I had a dog, and I was willing to just accept who I was and take my dog with me. I knew my dog would save me from things that would happen.
“It’s pretty magical having a seizure dog. Wynn is my third service dog, and I really love him. He helps me with my balance, and he is hysterically funny, especially if I am in a bad mood or don’t feel good.”
Brady demonstrated by asking Wynn if he was happy. Wynn began wagging his tail back and forth widely. Then, she asked, “How old are you, Wynn?” Wynn responded by giving her his paw three times. Brady then asked Wynn to bring her my camera bag, which he did immediately.
Brady added that service dogs don’t interact with other people in the family. She said the majority of the time Wynn is out of his harness, but her husband and daughter don’t play with the dog because he is working.
“You’re dog is with you 24/7,” Brady said. “I think what changes your life is that your dog is with you all the time. Every dog is different, so you have to train yourself to listen to the dog. You are a team. I think more people would foster dogs if they knew how important these dogs are in people’s lives.”
Mt. Airy residents Michael and Linda Dzuba can usually be found walking Mimi, a one-year-old black Labrador, around the neighborhood. “It’s been a life changing event,” said Michael Dzuba, a licensed clinical social worker whose friend, Darlene Sullivan, founded Canine Partners for Life.
For more information, visit www.K94life.org or call 610-869-4902.
— To be continued next week . . .