Nicki and Reuben started working in our Akron office in February 2022. We recently interviewed Nicki to hear her story about her life with a Medical Alert & Response Service Dog!
Nicki has an autoimmune disease called Autoimmune JIA Enthesitis HLA B27+, a condition in which the immune system malfunctions and begins to attack healthy cells and tissues, most specifically tendons and ligaments that connect to bones, as well as cartilage in the body, including that which surrounds organs. It is also linked to intestinal conditions, a condition called uveitis which can lead to blindness, and can affect the liver, heart, and lungs. The primary symptoms of this autoimmune disease are chronic bone and joint pain, arthritis, and chronic fatigue. Although there is no cure for this condition and remission is unlikely, the symptoms can be managed. The primary treatment is immunosuppressive injections, also called TNF blockers, which reduce the functioning of the immune system to prevent the level at which it attacks healthy cells and tissues. However, this also lowers the immune system’s ability to fight off unwanted viruses and bacteria, making getting even a common cold or the flu much more serious. She began experiencing symptoms at age 16, and was diagnosed 9 months later in March of 2017 when she was 17 years old.
Her neurological condition is called Functional Neurological Disorder, or FND. This is a condition in which there is a problem with the functioning of the nervous system, how the brain and body send and receive signals, and a disconnection of the functioning of the lobes. Her other chronic health problems were thought to play a big role in my development of FND. The symptoms of this condition include seizures (both convulsive and absence), tachycardia, temporary limb and/or speech paralysis, memory loss/lapses, temporary vision problems, tremors, motor tics, limb weakness, locked tendons, numbness, decrease in processing time, brain fog, fatigue, and chronic pain. There is no cure or current effective treatment for this condition. She had her first seizure in March of 2021, but had been experiencing neurological symptoms for several months prior. After multiple tests and EEGs, she was diagnosed with FND in April of 2021 when she was 21 years old.
Reuben is a Medical Alert & Response Service Dog. He is trained to detect seizures before they occur through the use of scent as well as subtle body cues he is able to pick up on. He paws at her leg to alert her to an oncoming seizure, and typically alerts Nicki15-45 minutes before she is going to have a seizure, which gives her enough time to get somewhere safe and get someone to be with her. During seizures, he will use his body to prevent Nicki from getting injured or from hitting her head. He will also lick her as she is coming out of a seizure to help her regain consciousness. He is also learning to go get help from a designated person and lead them back to her in case of emergency. Additionally, he is trained in cardiac response to mitigate tachycardia—this is a task called Deep Pressure Therapy, or DPT. He will lay on Nicki's lap or my chest, using his body weight to hit certain pressure points that settle the nervous system and lower high heart rate.
Reuben was born in September of 2020, and she got him at 8 weeks old in November of 2020, and he began training the day he came home. His training started out with socialization and desensitization, then moved to obedience training. Once his foundation was solid, he began learning public access skills and tasking. He started training in pet friendly stores, then slowly started going into public with Nicki at 4-5 months old, working his way up to going everywhere with her. By 8 months old, he was reliably tasking and alerting for Nicki.
Nicki's favorite thing about having a service dog is that no matter where she goes, her best friend goes with her. His job to keep Nicki safe is the best thing about having him around, but having the most loving companion by her side through everything she take on has made the day to day responsibilities so much more enjoyable. Nicki is almost never bored, because whether she waiting at an appointment or grocery shopping, she has the cutest face by her side looking up at her. Although Nicki wishes it wasn’t a medical necessity for her to have to bring a dog everywhere, she wouldn’t trade it for the world. The bond they have is unmatched. He has not only changed, but saved, her life.