Service Dog to Help Young Girl Walk
As she leans against her German shepherd puppy, eyes drifting closed, Emily Martin looks like contentment personified. And Dajmon seems perfectly happy to let this tiny human use him as a pillow.
But their relationship is far more than a girl and her dog.
As a 2-year-old with very little feeling and movement in her limbs, Emily will learn to rely on Dajmon to help her stand and maybe even walk. And when nerve pain rips her from sleep in the middle of the night, Dajmon will be there to comfort her.
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At 6 months old, Emily was a healthy, happy baby. Then one day she became very fussy, and her legs stopped moving. Within 12 hours, Emily was paralyzed from the neck down.
She spent time going through treatments and receiving steroids in the pediatric intensive care unit and was eventually diagnosed with acute idiopathic transverse myelitis – inflammation of the spinal cord and a neurological disorder that interrupts messages the spinal cord nerves send throughout the body. The disorder can cause pain, muscle weakness, paralysis, sensory problems or bladder and bowel dysfunction.
“It’s now been almost two years, and we still have no idea why Emily developed transverse myelitis,” remarks Ali Martin, Emily’s mom.
A very intelligent and independent child, Emily now has no sensation from the neck down and severe nerve motor damage that affects her torso and legs.
Intense therapy has yielded slow improvements. And medical equipment – such as a wheelchair and gait trainers – help her to independently get around. Still, she doesn’t have the total independence she craves, and she becomes easily fatigued.
“Due to the rarity of this disease, we have no idea what to expect,” Ali comments. “We do know that Emily will never be able-bodied. She will always require assistance with mobility, along with regular specialist appointments to monitor her bowel and bladder.”
Wanting to give their daughter more options, Ali and her husband, Cody, started researching the possibility of a mobility service dog. But after calling foundations and trainers across the country, they learned that no one was willing to accept a child as young as Emily to even be on their waiting list.
Many places that offered service dogs free or low cost for children ages 8 and up had a waiting list of 3 to 5 years.
“Most of the trainers I spoke to said it wasn’t possible or quoted us $30,000 to $50,000 to purchase and train a dog,” Ali says.
About ready to give up, Ali called a Florida trainer who said they could make it happen. After visiting the trainer, Emily instantly clicked with a 9-month-old German shepherd named Dajmon.
“Dajmon is her spirit animal,” Ali affirms. “They even have the same attitude. She already has incredible drive, but Dajmon gives her even more.”
The next step was to raise about $10,000, so they set up a Go Fund Me account.
Bell Bank’s Andrew Gaydos had been in the police academy with Ali and Army ROTC with Cody, and he introduced the couple. When Andrew learned about Emily and her dog, he started asking co-workers at Bell to pool their Pay It Forward funds to help. Within a day, he’d raised enough money.
“Because of Emily’s spinal cord injury, I can’t work,” Ali notes. “Cody takes incredible care of us, but things do get tight with a family of 5 and all of the extra things we do for Emily to give her the best possible chance for continued recovery. When Andrew told us about the Pay It Forward fund, both of our jaws hit the floor. Andrew and Bell Bank were answers to our prayers. I seriously can’t thank him and all of the people who donated enough.”
Andrew expected to be able to raise the money the Martins needed. But he had no idea he’d be able to do it so quickly.
“If a friend needs $10,000, you can’t usually do much about it. I don’t know of another company that does something like this,” he says of Bell’s Pay It Forward program, which gives employees money each year to donate to people and causes they care about.
Dajmon will help Emily stand and give her support to balance, which will eventually turn into walking with her, once Dajmon is older and Emily gains more ability to take steps. For now, he will also assist Emily in her wheelchair, guiding her, pulling her when she fatigues and stopping her when the command of “block” is given.
“Like any toddler, Emily wants to push her limits. Dajmon is trained to block her even if she tries to push through him,” Ali says. “This will give us peace of mind so she’s not suddenly going into the road or places she shouldn’t be trying to take her wheelchair.”
Additionally, Dajmon will sleep with Emily to help comfort her when she experiences nerve pain, which usually occurs at night.
“Dajmon stays beside her and supports her,” Ali remarks. “He gives her a different level of motivation and a best friend who is always with her at her level.”
Support for Emily’s service dog is not the first time the Martin family has experienced Bell Bank employees’ kindness.
When Cody’s unit was on combat rotation in Afghanistan, Andrew put together a care package to send over, and his co-workers helped supply every item on the soldiers’ wish list.
“The amount of support from Bell employees not only lifted our soldiers’ spirits, but also provided much needed morale in the form of simple snacks we love and miss from home,” Cody says. “On multi-day missions, we don’t often get to enjoy such simple pleasures out in the desert, but you all made that possible. In austere environments, it is truly the little things that get you by one more day. We are sincerely grateful, and for what you have given my daughter, I can never thank you enough.”