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How Having an Assistance Dog Changed My Life With Epilepsy

I’m Edward Crane and I am just an ordinary person. I’m 62 years old, and for about the first 32 years of my life, I was healthy, active and on a great career trajectory. I studied engineering in the U.S. Merchant Marine and traveled the world. Then I worked as a field engineer in the insurance industry in New Jersey and New York, and for a decade, everything went well. In 1987 I experienced my first grand mal seizure and collapsed at a business meeting in Philadelphia. It was the onset of epilepsy, which changed my life forever.

I continued working for the next 14 years, but my seizures, which only happened a few times the first year, became more and more frequent. They began to occur monthly, then weekly, then daily over the years; eventually they took control of my life. In August 2001, I finally had to retire on disability from my 24-year career because of my medical condition. This was a profoundly sad moment in my life.

A friend showed me a TV program featuring the nonprofit organization Canine Partners for Life (CPL). It detailed the wonderful work assistance dogs can do for disabled individuals, like retrieving objects out of a person’s reach, opening and closing doors on command, turning light switches on and off, providing balance and support, providing stability on stairs, helping bed-dependent individuals move, assisting with dressing and undressing, taking purchases and wallets to a cashier, alerting people to imminent seizures and cardiac events, and much more. This got my attention and I contacted CPL and arranged an interview.

My process of seeking an assistance dog was interrupted in December 2002 when I had surgery on the left temporal lobe of my brain to reduce the frequency of my seizures. The procedure helped, but it also impaired my short-term memory. Fewer seizures were a step in the right direction, but life was still a major daily challenge for me and I needed help.

After recovering from surgery in 2003, I went back to CPL and they introduced me to a female black Labrador retriever named Charity, who would be my home companion dog with the ability to alert me of oncoming seizures. Amazingly, at our first meeting, she warned me of an oncoming seizure about 20 minutes in advance of its occurrence. I laid down on the floor and she waited the seizure out by my side. I knew at that moment my life had just changed for the better. It was a new beginning for me. Our relationship as a team was truly amazing. We were together for about eight years before she passed away in 2011. Again, my life took a step backwards without my special dog by my side assisting me.

In June of 2012, I was matched with my current assistance dog, a cream Labrador retriever named Alepo, who warns me of oncoming seizures with complete accuracy and reliability, quickly alerting me and getting me to react. He isn’t satisfied until I lie down so he can place his front legs across my waist, and he won’t let me up until my seizure is entirely over. Then he gets up and licks my face, signaling that it’s safe for me to slowly return to my feet. Life got back to normal for me again.

We have been together as a team for over six years now and I also frequently lose my balance without warning. But I keep a good grip on the harness he wears to provide me with the necessary support through these unexpected challenges. This prevents me from falling and spares me many possible injuries and broken bones.

Epilepsy is truly a battle in my life, between the seizures, physical injuries, chronic head pain, memory loss, frustration and depression. I am truly a blessed individual; I have family members and friends who have helped me and supported me in so many ways each and every day as I deal with my epilepsy. I am truly grateful to my sister and her hubby, whom I live with, for being there for me; may God bless them both. Also, my assistance dog is my canine partner who is with me 24 hours a day, everywhere I go and provides me all the support I need. He helps me fight this battle daily and has helped restore a level of normalcy in my life. I am truly grateful.

Having a service dog made such a difference in my life with my epilepsy and the lives of many people I know, that I founded a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization called My Assistance Dog Inc. several years ago. We do not raise or train assistance dogs, but spread the word to individuals, the community in general and corporate America about the need for and the benefit assistance dogs provide to disabled individuals and their families. We also hope to provide support in as many ways as possible to the assistance dog community. In our short existence, we have reached out to over one million people around the world spreading the word about these amazing dogs.

Our goal is to educate and spread the word to the disabled community about how these special dogs can positively change one’s life for the better, promote awareness regarding assistance dogs, spread the word about their abilities and skills, protect and advance our rights with our dogs and celebrate the great work of assistance dogs and the wonderful organizations that raise and train them.

On a typical day, I begin my morning with a one mile walk in our neighborhood with my canine partner. My level of confidence is strong because I no longer have the fear of an oncoming seizure hitting me by surprise. It is a great way to start the day. I then spend the day on the internet and/or Facebook researching and preparing stories to feature regarding assistance dogs, plus answering questions people submit to us regarding assistance dogs.

My canine partner is always at my feet working, paying attention to me. Whenever he warns me of on oncoming seizure, I lay down on the floor and he places his front paws across my knees until the seizure ends. When he gets up, I know my seizure has passed and I get up and sit down to recover. Many days I also fight a battle with chronic severe head pain and I take the necessary medication, but my canine partner knows my condition and provides me support by staying at my side. I try to focus on him and not the pain and it helps.

In the evening I take that one mile walk again with my canine partner and it is truly relaxing for me. I sit down and review what took place in the day, I make some written notes (because of my memory loss), file them and plan for the next day and the future. I get a lot accomplished most days and I move forward in life.

In my life with epilepsy, I have learned that my family has been there for me, they help me deal with the biggest challenge I have ever faced in life and I am truly grateful for their love and support. But my assistance dog is a true miracle. My invisible disability will always be with me, but because of my canine partner Alepo, it no longer controls my life.

Getty image by sanjagrujic.

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