In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

December 10, 2015

Furry Friend Will Be More Than a Pet for Local Boy Living With Epilepsy

By In the Loop

Adrian’s family is planning to adopt a seizure dog — a specially trained service dog that will alert them when he has a seizure.Two minutes and 50 seconds. It doesn't sound like much time. But imagine your child wasn't breathing. Every second would feel like an eternity. Sarah Kappers-Mergen can tell you that from experience. Her 2-year-old son, Adrian, has a type of epilepsy that causes "respiratory restrictions" that "make it much harder to breathe," she tells the Austin Daily Herald. When that happens, "for every six or seven breaths a normal person takes, he's taking one," Sarah, who works at Mayo Clinic Health System in Austin, tells the newspaper.

"It's the scariest thing," Sarah tells us. "He turns the darkest blue you can imagine." So far, Adrian's longest seizure has lasted two minutes, 50 seconds. "If a seizure goes for three minutes, we need to give him emergency medication and start CPR."

Adrian was just 11 months old when he had his first seizure and was diagnosed with epilepsy. He began seeing Katherine Nickels, M.D., a neurologist at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus, who prescribed medication to control his seizures. And while the medication has helped reduce the seizures, it hasn't eliminated them. Which means that Sarah and her husband, Kyle, are constantly holding their breath, themselves. "I hardly slept the first month after he was diagnosed," Sarah tells us. "We haven't had a good night's sleep in a long time."

That may change soon, thanks to a new member that will be joining Adrian's care team. The family is planning to adopt a seizure dog — a specially trained service dog that will alert them when Adrian has a seizure. The pup will also be able to "catch" Adrian if he falls during a seizure, and will circle him during a seizure to keep others — like curious classmates — away. And the dog will carry Adrian's emergency medicine in a vest, so it will be close at hand even if Sarah and Kyle are not. Sarah says it will "mean a lot to us" to know Adrian will be in such good (ahem) paws. "It will really put us at ease."

But good help doesn't come cheap, even when it comes on four legs. It will cost the family up to $35,000 to purchase a seizure dog for Adrian. Thanks to the generosity of their home and work communities, that's a cost they won't have to bear alone. "Our church had a fundraiser and raised close to $27, 000," Sarah tells us. "We couldn't believe it." The giving didn't end there. Heidi Drazan, an appointment coordinator at Mayo's Pain Clinic and a high school classmate of Sarah's, arranged for funds from her work unit's annual holiday bake sale — close to $800 — to be donated to the cause. And Sarah's colleagues at Mayo Clinic Health System in Austin recently raised nearly $3,000 for the family by raffling off gift baskets.

"We're so grateful for all of the support," Sarah says. These gestures, along with "amazing" support from Dr. Nickels and Adrian's primary care provider in Austin, Kimberly Case, have been bright spots during a dark time in the family's life, she says.

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Tags: Dr Katherin Nickels, epilepsy, Patient Stories

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