Elizabeth's Daughter Karon 

Pooch warns of seizures

Dog helps child with epilepsy get to safe place.

 Boston knows when Karon Silva is in trouble. Unlike others in the Silva family, he alone senses when the 6-year-old is about to go into an epileptic seizure.

"We know now with him at least 24 hours before Karon has a seizure," said Elizabeth Silva, Karon's mother. "The only time it's not 24 hours is when she was sick and changed medication, and he knew maybe an hour or two before she had one.

"But Boston has been 100 percent accurate. He has not missed any since we got him. I lost count back in August. He can detect every one."

Boston is a dog. Not a doctor, but a 2½-year-old golden retriever. Initially just an innocent birthday present two years ago, Boston has become Karon's canine warning system, able to sense and warn her mother or grandfather she will soon have an epileptic seizure.

Certification fund

A fund has been set up in the name of Karon Silva at Amarillo National Bank to help defray the $2,000 in costs for a trainer to certify Boston , a golden retriever, a seizure-alert dog. About half of the amount has been raised.

If this sounds like some hokey 1950s episode of "Lassie," it goes beyond a TV script. There are dogs, known as "seizure-alert" dogs, that sense when a human is about to experience a seizure either through scent or just an innate sense.

"There's no question there are dogs that pick that up," said Eric Saunders, a Nevada dog trainer with 35 years experience. "It's been well-documented. Some pick it up without training, but training can certainly enhance that skill."

Saunders, a specialist in this field, hopes to be in Amarillo this month to work with Boston for several days. That would certify the dog to accompany Karon to Wolflin Elementary School , to enter public facilities and be a constant health companion like a guide dog aids the blind.

Money is an issue for Silva, a single mother with two children who lives with her father, Rick Barclay. They have half the money raised for Baron's certification. It would be a 24-hour lifeline and a peace of mind.

"If we can have as much warning as Boston gives us to get Karon somewhere safe and watch her and know something's not right, she can actually live as a child," Silva said. "Instead, it's me always on top of her and her not being able to do things other girls can. Boston gives her a little bit of freedom and she gives me the security that she's OK if I'm not always around, that he's going to let us know."

Karon had her first seizures at 2 weeks old. She was diagnosed with epilepsy because of her metabolism at age 3 at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston . She can average a seizure every two days, or can go as long as 13 weeks without them.

"But when they come back, they come back with a vengeance," said Silva of the seizures that affect her daughter's memory and recall.

Last Monday, Boston was able to warn the family in the hours before Karon had two grand mal seizures that required stays at Northwest Texas Hospital .

The family had Boston for all of four days in December 2007 when he saw Karon's first major seizure.

"He lost it," Silva said. "He was barking, growling, running back and forth. When it was over, we went into her room and Boston was lying down beside her."

That was after the seizure. Since then, Boston 's behavior changes around Karon have been uncanny in predicting a seizure. He will become clingy to her and will not leave her side. That's the first tip that a seizure could occur within hours.

"If it's night and Karon wakes up and is about to have a seizure, he will pace back and forth between her room and to me and my dad," she said. "I mean it's obvious."

And the closer that Karon seems to be to a seizure, the more animated Boston can get.

"He'll turn and stare at you, and paw her like something is not right," Silva said. "If the seizure is closer, he'll pace around faster and faster. He literally will not eat or drink until after she's had one. After that, he will eat and go to the bathroom, and everything is all right." 

Silva is hopeful she can reach a financial arrangement with Saunders, who operates Goldstar Dog Training in Pahrump , Nev. His additional training in sensory technique as well as obedience would allow Boston to be with Karon not only at home, but throughout the day.


"He could warn anyone when something is not right, not just us," Silva said. " Boston is an amazing dog."


 

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