By Heather Garant
Some would say that my pregnancy was not easy one, and typically I would agree, but something wonderful came of it. I gave birth to a beautiful little girl named Caitlyn who was born seven-and-a-half weeks early. She had been diagnosed in utero with hydrocephalus when I was 18½ weeks pregnant. Hydrocephalus (pronounced “hi-dro SEF-a-lus”) means water (hydro) in the head (cephalous). It is sometimes called water on the brain and an encephalocele (pronounced “in-SEF-a-lo-seal”) is when the skull does not close completely, and a part of the brain may extend into a sac.
Things were very difficult during the pregnancy as we had never heard of this and did not know what to expect. I was monitored via ultrasound to check for any extreme growth in her head. She was born March 4, 1999, and was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Unfortunately, her hydrocephalus was severe. So severe in fact that the doctors informed us that she would most likely never walk, talk, hear, or see. She was also born with an open-skull defect, where her skull did not close completely on the back of her head. She had three surgeries, one the day after she was born, again on her third day of life, and a final craniofacial reconstruction surgery in May of 2000, just two months before her first birthday. She began having seizures following her craniofacial surgery.
Caitlyn is now 7 years old. She walks, hears, sees, and definitely talks, never-ending sometimes it seems! She has a lot of spirit and spunk. She does have some vision problems and is also developmentally delayed. She cannot write very well and has not yet learned to read, mostly due to the vision issues. Her seizures are typically four to six months apart, but they are getting more severe and as of today, more frequent. She cannot come out of them on her own and has difficulty with her breathing. Still, she is our miracle baby.
We recently discovered that there is hope out there waiting for her in the form of a therapeutic canine companion, in this instance referred to as a “seizure comfort” dog. Caitlyn has been partnered with an organization based out of Xenia, Ohio, called 4 Paws for Ability. Its mission is to enrich the lives of people with disabilities by training and placing service animals to provide them with companionship and promote independent living. It believes service dogs should be made available to anyone with a disability who wishes to have the love, companionship, and independence that are the result of service-dog placement.
A seizure comfort dog could do wonderful things for Caitlyn. He can be trained to alert us when she is having a seizure. Often her seizures occur far apart or in her sleep, but we may be able to train the dog to sense her seizures beforehand. Her new dog would also help her up and down stairs due to her vision problems and go everywhere with her, not only as her service dog, but as her best friend. These wonderful animals are trained specifically for each child based on his or her needs. If you would like to learn more about our little miracle, visit www.CaitlynsDog.com or 4 Paws For Ability at www.4PawsForAbility.org. Happy holidays from our family to yours.