A Mutt for Mel

*** UPDATE ***       ***UPDATE***       ***UPDATE***

Hello everyone!
I have *fantastic* news! A charity at my college, Sara Spins, saw my post about needing a service dog. The head of the organization contacted me and offered to help me fundraise through their non-profit!! 100% of the funds will go towards my service dog. All processing fees will be waived.

I am beyond thrilled and so incredibly grateful to Sara Whitestone and Sara Spins.

Please visit http://www.saraspins.org/michelle.html if you want to donate through their site!

Original Post
Over 10 years ago, Michelle noticed something was wrong. "It felt like my heart was just racing out of control. I don't think I'd ever felt it beat so fast." She had AVNRT, a condition in which the heart has an extra electrical pathway, allowing it to short circuit and beat up to 290 times a minute. Michelle had surgery to correct the problem when she was a junior in college.

But it didn't take. "The first procedure froze the pathway, but it didn't destroy it completely. Instead, it just stunned it, and then the pathway regrew." Michelle began to experience worsening palpitations. Doctors gave her a clean bill of health, though, and she traveled 2400 miles away from home to start a doctoral program in musicology. In graduate school, her heart problems got severe enough that they were finally able to be diagnosed by a cardiac electrophysiologist at the University of Cincinnati's medical center. Michelle underwent a second procedure for the arrhythmia, and like the first, this one was thought to have been a success.

Yet almost immediately she experienced  new and different problems. "It felt like someone was stabbing me through the chest with a burning apple corer - just driving and stabbing and burning. I felt sick a lot of the time. I started to lose weight. I had two more episodes when my heart just started to race out of control." Doctors found another arrhythmia and implanted a loop recorder to monitor the situation a year. But Michelle continued to experience deteriorating health. Finally, after months of constant balance issues, nausea, and vomiting, she got up to turn off the computer and fainted. "I was walking, and then remember just feeling so hot and sick. I'd never fainted before, so it took a while to figure out what had even happened." Over the next year and a half, Michelle would undergo countless tests and ER visits. Her bizarre collection of symptoms included pain, nausea and vomiting, hair loss, pupils that didn’t respond to changes in light, weakness, dizziness and disequilibrium, flushes and rashes, lightheadedness, fainting, and even repeated bouts of anaphylaxis. 

By December 2017, Michelle was being treated for POTS, EDS-JHS, intercostal neuralgia, MCAS, fibromyalgia and myofascial pain syndrome, and a high autoimmune antibody count. Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, or POTS, is a disorder of the autonomic system, which is responsible for controlling many important functions like heart rate, blood pressure, pupil size, and digestion. When someone with POTS stands up, their body can no longer compensate for the change in position. This meant that when Michelle stood up, her heart rate began to increase until finally, overtaxed, her body would simply give out. Dizziness, problems balancing, nausea, headaches, and fainting are all common symptoms. Joint hypermobility syndrome, often also classed as Ehlers-Danlos type 3, is characterized by joint pain, subluxations, and dislocations. Skin is often stretchy and wounds don't heal properly. Michelle's ribs began to dislocate, making it difficult to lift her backpack for school or open heavy doors. It also affects balance. Lastly, "MCAS, or mast cell activation syndrome, is thought to be the result of overactive mast cells. Mast cells contain histamine and other substances responsible for allergic reactions. In people like me, those cells are oversensitive, like old dynamite," Michelle explained. Reactions, including anaphylaxis, can happen from potentially any food, environmental, or even emotional trigger.

Michelle ends up fighting about 7 different medical conditions on any given day. She has to take 29 medications 14 different times a day. She struggles to keep her balance when walking. Reactions to food have sent her into anaphylactic shock; on average she experiences a severe allergic reaction once a week.

Michelle and her medical team now think that a service dog could be an option to help her live safely. A service dog could help her stand and balance, so she can walk farther independently. It could also fetch medications and alert first responders for help when she falls, faints, or has a severe allergic response. Some service dogs are even able to provide cardiac and allergen alerts, which would be potentially life-saving for Michelle.

Michelle found Buckeye Service Dogs online and contacted the head trainer about a program dog, since she is currently too sick to train one herself. "Hypoallergenic program dogs cost about $16,500. The amazing thing is this program has successfully trained a service dog team where the handler has conditions similar to mine - that's incredibly rare and it means they have experience with what might work," Michelle reported.

It will take around 6-12 months for a service dog to be trained. Including startup costs, fundraising fees, and care for the first several months while the team continues to train, the total cost comes to $19,550. Although this is very fast and a very fair rate for a highly trained service dog, it is still well beyond the budget of a graduate student. But if the dog was able to protect Michelle from one ER level event, it would pay for its upkeep for a year -- in addition to potentially saving her life.

She is asking for any help you can give in defraying some of the cost for a service dog.

Please consider making a donation and helping Michelle start her service dog's education! Gifts of any size would be incredibly welcome!

*updates to Michelle's journey will be added to this page and at https://amuttformel.wordpress.com/ *


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Michelle Lawton 
Cincinnati, OH
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