The first ever International Epilepsy Day was celebrated on Monday, February 9th, 2015 around the world. This was a major step in improving epilepsy awareness in every region of the world, and also highlighted the urgent need for increased research into epilepsy. From this year (2015) forward the official day will be the second Monday of February each year.
Both my assistance dog Alepo and I proudly celebrated this special event here in Clovis, California.
Here’s my story about how epilepsy changed my life:
I’m Edward Crane. I’m 57 years old, and for about the first 30 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.
Suddenly, 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.
The scariest part of grand mal seizures is that you never feel them coming; they strike without warning. You simply collapse, commonly resulting in injury. After regaining consciousness, you don’t know what happened. Thus, epilepsy easily imprisons people, removing them from the real world. The disease did it to me, depression set in, and this has been the ongoing battle of my life.
Over the next 14 years, I experienced grand mal seizures and partial seizures. At first, it was just a few times per year. Then, they struck monthly, then weekly, and finally daily. The seizures also triggered severe chronic head pain, causing true agony.
In August 2001, I had to retire from my 24-year career because of my medical condition. This was a profoundly sad moment in my life.
Shortly after, a friend showed me a TV program featuring the nonprofit organization Canine Partners for Life (CPL). It detailed the wonderful work that assistance dogs 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. I contacted CPL and arranged an interview.
The process was briefly interrupted in December 2002 when I needed 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. Life was still a major daily challenge.
After recovering in 2003, I went back to CPL and they introduced me to Charity, a female black Labrador retriever who would be my home companion and seizure-alert dog. Amazingly, at our first meeting, Charity warned me of an oncoming seizure. I laid down on the floor and she waited the seizure out by my side.
I knew right away my life had just changed for the better. It was a new beginning for me.
Charity and I were a team for seven years. Her ability to warn me of oncoming seizures and assist me with balance issues helped me take back control of my life. When Charity passed away, it was a staggering loss that created a vacuum in my life.
In 2012, I traveled again to CPL, this time to meet my successor full-service seizure-alert dog Alepo.
Alepo was a 5-year-old male cream Labrador retriever. We trained together and graduated from CPL Team Training classes in the summer of 2012 and have been together ever since.
Alepo 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. He gets up and licks my face, signaling that it’s safe for me to slowly return to my feet.
These days, I also frequently lose my balance without warning. But I keep a good grip on the harness that Alepo wears to provide me the necessary support through these unexpected challenges. This prevents me from falling and spares me many possible injuries and broken bones. Thanks, Alepo!
Charity, Alepo, and CPL helped restore my confidence and allowed me to deal with my disability in a positive manner. Advance warning of seizures prevents epilepsy from controlling my life, and I know firsthand just what a tremendous help an assistance dog is, physically, psychologically, and emotionally, each and every day.
It’s a true partnership in the face of a tough battle. For me, it means freedom. It means my life has been restored to normalcy to a great degree. Alepo has also given my family back much of the freedom they sacrificed to help me with my disability.
I continue to have seizures, chronic head pain, balance problems, and struggles with side effects from the many medications I take. But I also get out of the house, travel, and enjoy life, thanks to my assistance dog and my family and friends. God bless you, Alepo and all assistance dogs everywhere.
From a life-shattering disability and depression to reclaiming my life, I’m now the most enthusiastic advocate for assistance dogs you’ll ever meet. I know there are many people just like me, with their own stories of tragedy and triumph involving assistance dogs, as well as many without an assistance dog waiting to benefit in the same ways.
This should give you some good insight into why I founded My Assistance Dog Inc. I hope to strengthen our community, protect and advance our rights, promote awareness, get the word out, and celebrate the great work of assistance dogs and the wonderful organizations that raise and train them.
Remember, assistance dogs restore a level of normalcy in a disabled individual’s life, and they are true miracles. Please spread the word.