March 27, 2013 7:09 pm

Alberta toddler gets a potentially life-saving best friend

EDMONTON – A Wetaskiwin family is hoping a brand new puppy will help 17-month old Maddi Dewald, who began having seizures around her first birthday last October.

“She was just, like, convulsing. Her head was shaking, her arms were pulsing, her legs were kicking,” recalls her mother, Jessica Dewald.

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She adds that those seizures would continue for anywhere between two to 15 minutes. One day, the young girl had three of them in one day. After receiving an epilepsy diagnosis, the toddler has been to the hospital five times in as many months, and has been put on different medications, which not only have negative side effects but also failed to stop the seizures.

Her mom remembered hearing about dogs who can detect when someone is about to have a seizure. And after doing some research, she stumbled upon the organization 1 Boy 4 Change on Facebook.

“They’ve changed everything,” she says.

The Georgia-based organization was founded by Janet Carswell’s 14 year-old son Christopher, who has been living with epilepsy since birth. 1 Boy 4 Change trains dogs for children with all sorts of medical issues. Maddi is the organization’s first Canadian client, and up until a four-month old girl’s family requested a dog for her, Maddi was also the youngest.

Right now, she’s getting acquainted with Zoey, an adorable Great Pyrenees pup whose breed is known for their maternal nature. After a few months, the puppy will be sent down to the U.S. to get trained, with a trainer mimicking the behaviour that Maddi shows before a seizure, and teaching the dog to get help when those symptoms appear.

“Once we have the dog trained and everything,” says Maddi’s mom, “(Zoey’s) going to let me know when Maddi’s going to have a seizure in the middle of the night, so then I can go to sleep (because) I can trust that the dog is going to let me know when Maddi is seizing.”

As for how a dog is able to do that, Janet Carswell says that hasn’t been 100 percent proven.

“There’s been a lot of research done..and nobody can exactly tell us what the dogs are picking up on, but they do detect it. We’re just not sure what exactly that is.”

Regardless of how some dogs can know, Maddie’s mom believes even the few seconds of warning Zoey could give will make a big difference, as well as give her peace of mind – especially as Maddi grows older and isn’t able to be by her mother’s side at all times.

She also thinks that people seeing the service dog with Maddi may help ease some of the social stigma that can often be associated with some of the behaviour caused by epilepsy.

“You never know – kids can be cruel sometimes,” she says. “It’ll be an extra ice breaker having the dog with her.”

Maddi plays with her new puppy

The family will have to spend a few weeks in Florida this September, when Zoey gets trained. To help cover the costs of the trip and training, they have organized a “Paws on Ice” fundraiser with sledge hockey and a silent auction. It will be held on April 27th at 7:30 in the Leduc Recreation centre. Tickets are just $5. For more information, visit the 4 Paws for Miss Maddi Facebook page.

 With files from Su-Ling Goh, Global News

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