While attending college, my life took a sudden and drastic turn for the worst. I developed a condition called “Postural Orthostatic -Tachycardia Syndrome” or “POTS” for short. This condition causes my autonomic nervous system (which controls everything in your body that you don’t think about) to function incorrectly. It affects my breathing, digestion, sweat production, heart rate, pupil sizes, and so much more. Most importantly, POTS alters the way my brain regulates my blood pressure. At random times, my blood pressure drops causing me to lose consciousness suddenly. I also experience dizziness, “brain fog”, numbness, tingling, and fatigue on a daily basis. Over time, my POTS began to worsen and my symptoms forced me to drop out of college, quit my job, stop doing the things I love, and become completely dependent on those around me.
I went from being an active college sophomore, involved in horseback riding, volunteering, and various musical ensembles, to a sheltered, scared, young woman afraid to go anywhere on her own. I never knew when the extreme dizziness and loss of consciousness would occur. What would happen if I tried to go to the store by myself and had an episode? Would I be able to get home safely? Was that trip to the store by myself really worth the risk? This was not how I expected my life as a 20 year old to go. I had always been a very strong and independent person and hated feeling this way. Hated being scared to do anything. Hated having to be watched by family members. I hated being forced to live this way. I decided it was time to do something. That something was apply for a “cardiac alert dog”, also known as an “assistance dog”.
I was familiar with “Canine Partners for Life (CPL)” and had even volunteered for the organization in the past. I knew they did great work and knew what a difference their dogs made in a handicapped individuals life. I never imagined that I would need their help. I put in my application and came for an interview with the trainers where I met “Forest”, a beautiful “Collie”, the dog that would give me my life back. Forest and I went through three very intense weeks of training with the “CPL” staff. During this training, I learned all the commands Forest knew, service dog law and access rights, and the basics of dog training and care. Forest learned my body, when I needed his help, and how to be the best partner he could be. Almost immediately, Forest began to sense even the tiniest changes within my body. He is able to sense my dangerous drops in blood pressure about 15 minutes before they occur. This allows me to lay down and keep blood flow to my brain which helps me avoid losing consciousness. He can sense before I’m hit with a “dizzy spell” and provides the extra support needed to keep me on my feet. Forest, also was trained to provide me with physical assistance. He picks up items from the floor so I don’t have to bend over (a trigger for my episodes). He can find and bring me my phone so I can call for help if needed. He helps me up off the ground if I fall. Forest, also wears a custom made harness which allows him to provide a gentle pull when we’re walking to reduce my fatigue and conserve my energy.
Forest and I have now been together for three years. During this time, he has not only helped me regain my “independence” but he’s helped me to regain my “confidence”. Shortly after graduating with Forest, I felt confident enough to begin going out in public on my own again. It was then that I was able to return to work, go back to school and also return to my musical ensembles. Before I knew it, Forest had gotten me back to real life. Although my life will certainly never be “normal” again, Forest’s consistent alerts, pull in harness, and reassuring presence have allowed me to get back to the “life I knew before POTS”.
I now work full time in a job I love, helping others. Not only have I continued my passion for music, but Forest and I made history when we were the first assistance dog team to perform at “Carnegie Hall”. I volunteer with several disability advocacy groups. I’ve traveled the country. I got married and purchased my first home. I’ve worked with the federal government on assistance dog access rights. This is what Forest and I have managed to accomplish in three years! I can’t even imagine what the future holds and what we have yet to achieve!