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Aubrey and Luke: Community pitches in to get service dog for 6-year-old with epilepsy
Las Cruces Sun-News - 4/3/2021
CANUTILLO – When Aubrey Lopez was born, she had trouble breathing and doctors told her parents she was weaker than the other babies.
Soon, doctors would confirm Aubrey had a chromosome deletion — specifically affecting her sixth chromosome. This diagnosis is rare, and it can result in developmental delays. Lucy Vasquez, her mom, said doctors explained the condition by saying “everybody has chapters and on Aubrey’s sixth chapter she’s missing a sentence.”
Aubrey is now 6. It took her a year to learn to sit and two years to learn to walk. She can say "mom" and "dad." Other simple words she communicates through sign language, but it is still difficult for her to explain more than one word.
About a month ago, Aubrey began shaking uncontrollably and then fainted.
Vasquez and Aubrey's grandparents tried to wake her, even attempting to perform CPR. Nothing worked.
“My heart dropped — I was so scared. I didn’t know what happened,” Vasquez said. “She was just limp and her face was purple, so I called the police.”
Paramedics arrived to help the family and once tests were run at the hospital, it was confirmed Aubrey had had a seizure. About two weeks later she had a second one. Later, a neurologist confirmed Aubrey has epilepsy.
Aubrey Lopez' best friend
The Epilepsy Foundation reports dogs can be trained to help people with seizures.
Vasquez asked about service dogs after Aubrey's first seizure and their pediatrician agreed a dog would help them be prepared. A dog would also provide Aubrey with a companion since she is an only child.
But service dogs don't come cheap. At Barkerhaus Kennels in El Paso, the $15,000 price tag includes the dog, it’s service training and added seizure alert training.
Vasquez started a GoFundMe on March 22 for help with the costs and by the end of the day she said they had reached their goal.
“I got off of work and I was like oh my god, what just happened,” Vasquez said.
Their goal was in fact exceeded. A total of $20,846 was raised for Aubrey and her service dog. They stopped taking donations March 27.
More: NMSU club to train five new puppies to be guide dogs for the blind
The family has since then chosen a 4-month-old German Shephard puppy named Luke from the organization. Vasquez said Luke follows Aubrey everywhere and they play together.
Luke has two more months before he is old enough to start his service training, but thanks to donations, the full cost of his training has been paid in full.
Scent of a dog
Angie Morgan and Tiffany Schneider of Barkerhaus Kennels explained that training consists of standards established by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Dogs go through six weeks of basic obedience and six weeks of public access — to get the dog used to public places their handler will often go. The Canine Good Citizens course will ensure “the dog is solid under distractions and is safe in public places.” They will also be trained based on a doctor’s plan for what tasks need to be fulfilled.
The seizure alert portion involves scent training the dog which, involves a large portion of the training time. According to Schneider, from start to finish, training can take six months to a year to complete.
“It really depends on how good the dog's nose is, how quickly the dog understands what we're asking it to do,” Schneider said. “They all have to have an ‘aha’ moment where they go, ‘oh, I'm learning all of this stuff to do something for my person.’”
Seizure alert dogs are required to return for annual training as a sort of tune-up to make sure they are performing at their best.
Aubrey is currently on medication for her epilepsy and is doing well, but it is still possible she will have more seizures. Vasquez said she gave her two-week’s notice at her job so she can spend more time with Aubrey and be there for her.
“It’s been really stressful and really scary,” Vasquez said. “Since she can’t tell us what’s happening, that’s the scariest part.”
But the donations from the GoFundMe page and the progress made toward securing Luke has eased some of her fear.
“It feels like I can breathe a little bit because I was so stressed out, I couldn't sleep. I'm still obviously really scared because I don't want to see my daughter go through another one, so we're still very alert. But it just, it feels like a weight was lifted off my chest because I know eventually, we're going to have just an extra precaution to take care of her.”
She added the family is grateful for family members and friends who helped them exceed their GoFundMe goal. Aubrey goes through six therapies a week and attends Jose H. Damian Elementary School. Vasquez said is incredibly proud of her daughter and it means a lot to know others support Aubrey and her accomplishments.
Leah Romero is the trending reporter at the Las Cruces Sun-News and can be reached at 575-418-3442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @rromero_leah on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: Aubrey and Luke: Community pitches in to get service dog for 6-year-old with epilepsy
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