It took a long time for me to regain consciousness and even longer before I recognized the people I was with. When they sat me up, it became painfully clear that something was broken in my shoulder. We were in a remote area with no cell phone coverage so that meant someone had to ride back a good distance to the farm to get help.
Due to my injuries I had surgery to perform an amputation on my left clavicle, in addition I suffered from a Moderate Traumatic Brain Injury and severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Unfortunately, this was not my first traumatic brain injury. Due to a series of misfortunate situations throughout my life, including being hit by a drunk driver in 1990, this injury became my 13th traumatic brain injury. The cumulative effect of all these traumatic brain injuries with the damage caused by the moderate traumatic brain injury in 2011, has left me with life long challenges, pain and disabilities. I have since suffered additional concussions due to make lack of coordination and balance.
Months after the injury in 2011, I was having a hard time walking, talking and thinking clearly. Everyday things like light, sounds, movement were unbearable and torturous. Going back to work was out of the question, even though I attempted in three separate occasions. Very quickly it became apparent to my family that I was not going to heal from this on my own this time around. A neurological specialist in Atlanta, Georgia was contacted after we exhausted every avenue for help here in Ontario.
Over the course of the past 6 years I have spent countless weeks and countless dollars in the United States trying to recover from the moderate traumatic brain injury. To the point that I have put my family in significant debt, my husband came out of semi-retirement and secured another job, we had to use our daughter’s education fund to help pay for travel and accommodations for my treatments and to supplement the loss of my full income and our son left university for a year to work to help support the family and pay for the remainder of his education. In addition, I had to give up my job as Human Resources Manager. A position that I only held for 9 months prior to the accident. Over the years my husband and I have sold off everything we could to help pay for my medical costs. At this current time the doctors have informed me that I will never be able to work again due to the severity of my injuries. A situation that one day I hope will be changed and I will be able to return to the workforce in some capacity.
I have made much progress over the years. However, my life for the most part is limited to our home and property due to my TBI symptoms and PTSD. It would be safe to say that I struggle through everyday to do the things that I have to do, but I do not have a lot of joy in my life due to my isolation caused my injuries and symptoms. I have a very hard time in crowds, in busy stores, navigating shopping centres, lineups, grocery stores, I cannot go to most restaurants or the movies, I have a fear of falling and so much more. I suffer from depression because my life has been so unbelievably altered in the blink of an eye from this accident. I do on occasion help my daughter with her small craft business, but doing so flares all of my symptoms and it takes me days to recover from it.
However, I have found some comfort in all of this, several years ago by a sheer miracle a dog came into my life who has helped me beyond measure when I am at home. This beautiful dog that I had seen one evening on Kijiji was up for adoption. He was strong and handsome, a yellow lab husky cross with blue eyes. When I discussed getting him with Jim he felt that maybe this was not the best time for me to get a new dog while dealing with all my injuries and mass amounts of pain. I agreed, but could not stop thinking about this beautiful dog. Several weeks later, that very same dog that was up for adoption on Bear Island, near Temagami was in my yard. I went outside to see why the other dogs were barking and there he was the blue-eyed beauty from Kijiji. I brought him in and the bond was immediate. It took several days of searching to find out who the dog belonged to in the area. As it turns out, another resident of the municipality had purchased the dog from it’s original owners on Bear Island and was struggling with the dog running away from his new home. When I found out who the owner was I contacted him and arranged to bring the dog back.
I was heart broken, I had named the dog George and we were inseparable in the few days he was with me. But more than that he seemed to sense things about me, he seemed to know when my pain was increasing, and he would comfort me or alter a family member. If I got up to do something in the house, he would walk beside me but would do so as if he was supporting me (I have severe vertigo which causes dizziness and lack of balance). He seemed to know that I was depressed and would stay by my side and comfort me. If were separated he would become extremely agitated and upset.
When we returned him to his owner, he called me that evening and said "I do not understand what is wrong with the dog. He has sat at the door since you left and has been crying for the past 7 hours." It was discussed, and the gentlemen felt that the dog should remain with me. We arranged for us to pick him up the next day, but when the owner let him out in the morning he ran away and came back to me. Since this time George has been by my side providing great aid and support, but when I leave he cannot come with me to stores, appointments, errands, all the things that provide me with the most difficulties. Which leaves me feeling very vulnerable and creates a lot of anxiety, not only for me but also my family.
I have been searching for quite some time to find someone that would train him as a service dog. We worked with Sara Carson, just shortly before she left North Bay for her career in the United States and he made lots of advancements in his obedience training. It has taken nearly two years, but I have found a local trainer Melanie Guillemette, that will work with us to have George trained as an official service dog, however the cost is beyond what we are able to afford at this time. The trainer has provided an reasonable cost, she will work with us together and George will remain with me during his training sessions. She has quoted us $7500 for 6 months worth of training, his exam, vest, and badges.
I have met with a few friends with PTSD service dogs over the past two years and they have explained that George has taken on the role of a service dog all on his own and when I am not with him my anxiety, PTSD and fear all increase because I do not have his support. Having George trained as a service dog will aid me in living a fuller more independent life by knowing and trusting that he is there to provide support and security. The goal for George’s training is for him to then provide the following supports:
· Mobility/Loss of Consciousness – George will be trained to assist with my balance while walking, to retrieve dropped items and to prevent additional injuries due to poor co-ordination or visual impairment. George will be trained to practise specific rehabilitation exercises and targeting with me. If I were to experience episodes of fainting or loss of consciousness from another fall, George will be trained to lick, nudge, or otherwise reawaken me, or alert others that help is needed. As my trusted guide and assistant, George will provide me with the confidence to be active and social outside of my home.
· Memory Problems/Confusion/Anxiety – George can assist me if I begin to have difficulty remembering to eat, take medication at regular intervals, turn off the stove or running water, George can be trained to remind me, or retrieve certain needed materials. George can also learn complex routines to assist me if I become confused or disoriented and develop safety protocols to lead them back to a safe place. If I become stressed during certain activities, George can also learn techniques to calm them.
· Loneliness/Companionship – For years now I have felt physically and emotionally removed from my previous life and support networks. George currently provides a sense of constant support, companionship and helps to elevate my mood, keep me active at home and with the proper training he will provide me with the support and confidence to begin engaging in social activities outside of my home.
· Comfort and Reassurance for my family – one of the hardest aspects of this injury on my family is the constant worrying about me and my wellbeing when they are not with me during the day. Having George trained in all the above-mentioned aspects will give my family a sense of peace and assurance that I am alright and that I have support when they cannot be with me, especially on those days in which my symptoms are at their worst.
In addition to the practical and functional help a service dog can offer a TBI patient, recent research suggests the presence of a service animal in a survivor’s life can actually influence neurohormone production.
Research into veterans with a mild TBI found a statistically significant increase in pituitary dysfunction and reduced neural and hormone function in the parts of the brain (prefrontal cortex/amygdala) that regulate emotional control, empathy, memory and learning. One neurohormone – oxytocin – that is impaired by TBIs is associated with symptom severity.
Increasing oxytocin in a TBI patient reduces stress response and negative stimuli response, reduces heart stress and heart rate variability, reduces perception of pain, anxiety and depression, promotes sleep, and promotes positive effects on social behaviour like trust, bonding, and empathy.
Remarkably, positive and friendly contact with dogs, including service dogs, has been found to increase oxytocin in humans generally, and a program that provides service dogs to veterans with TBIs and post-traumatic stress disorder has resulted in many encouraging clinical observations.
In conclusion, I sincerely appreciate you taking the time and consideration to read my story and to help me get George trained as my TBI/PTSD Service Dog. The new lease on life that his training and new skill set will provide me is beyond measure, and I would be eternally grateful for any help you could provide me in helping George and I reach this goal.
Asking for your financial support is so very hard for me to do. For those of you who know me, you know that I will give the shirt of my back to help someone else and that I have dedicated a lot of time and effort to raising money for those suffering with traumatic brain injuries but to ask for myself is beyond hard!
If you are unable to financially help that is ok, I completely understand. You can still help me by sharing this campaign on your social media networks.
- East Ferris Knights of Columbus
- Stephanie Kugler
- Janet Bell
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