CORAL SPRINGS, FLA. (WSVN) - The parents of a South Florida woman living with autism and epilepsy are hoping a four-legged companion can detect their daughter’s seizures before they happen.
7News cameras captured 21-year-old Julia Martin watching Disney’s animated “Beauty and the Beast” in her Coral Springs home. Her parents said the images on the small flat-screen comfort her.
When asked whether she also likes the film’s live-action remake, Julia touched letters on a chart to spell out her answer.
“‘Dad, I’m a purist,'” said her father, David Martin, as he revealed her reply.
Julia was born with autism, and as a preteen developed epilepsy.
Her mother, Vicki Martin, has become increasingly concerned about her daughter’s seizures. “She’s had seizures not that severe; they started at [age] 12,” she said, “but lately, I would say in the last two years, they’ve become generalized, which [means] there’s a real risk of falling and dropping and hurting yourself, and she doesn’t know when they’re coming.”
Julia’s parents found Jillian Skalky, a dog trainer who specializes in diabetes, seizure and even gluten alert service dogs. “We’ll scent-train for the dog to sniff out a seizure,” she said.
The Martins got swabs of Julia’s sweat after a seizure in March. Jillian is using that sample to train Julia’s new dog, named Venus.
“We’ve been able to determine that the dog will detect it, at least 10 minutes before the seizure’s oncoming,” said Skalky.
Venus will also work to keep Julia from hurting herself from her sensory-seeking behavior. “She bangs her mouth because she’s trying to provide input, and she does it with objects,” said Vicki. “She seeks a lot of what’s called self-stimulation.”
Skalky demonstrated how Venus will keep Julia from hurting herself. “She comes up to my face and stops, and nudges away,” said Skalky, “and for Julia, that’s really important, just to cause that distraction.”
Venus will learn deep pressure techniques like the ones performed by another of Skalky’s dogs. “Like, if they’re having a panic attack, this will calm them down,” she said.
Julia has already met her new friend Venus. “We were quite delighted about the opportunity, and just to see Venus with Julia, it opened up a new channel in her life of independence and being self-aware, more secure,” said David.
As excited as the Martins are about the new addition to their family, they are even more excited about the new possibilities that may arise in Julia.
But the specially trained dog comes with a high price and is not covered by insurance. The cost of obtaining and training Venus amounts to about $13,000. The family has raised half of that money.
Venus has between four and six months left on her training. If you’d like to help the family reach their fundraising goal, go their GoFundMe page.
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