Lizzy and Kavi

A skilled companion team

Lizzy is a fiercely independent and high-spirited young woman. Her mom, Camilla, says she has always been that way, ever since she was very young. “Lizzy has Down syndrome, so she’s always had obstacles and she has participated in many different therapies (physical, oral and cognitive) since she was only 6 weeks old,” says Camilla. “Lizzy attended regular school from kindergarten through third grade. She played softball, soccer and taekwondo; gave oral book reports and was in the school play.”

That all changed after Lizzy fell off a horse during one of her hippotherapy sessions. “She became really ornery and was being too disruptive during class, so she had to be transferred into a special education class. She didn’t want to play sports and became withdrawn. This wasn’t my little girl,” explains Camilla. “For over a year, I took her to various doctors and I told them something was wrong with Liz. She wasn’t her usual self in so many ways, but the doctors kept telling me she was fine.”

It wasn’t until two years after her fall from the horse, when Lizzy passed out and was taken to the emergency room, that doctors finally discovered she had a broken neck. They were in amazement that Lizzy was able to survive with a broken dens bone for such a long time. “Lizzy has a high pain tolerance and didn’t know how to express her pain or the frustration it was causing her,” says Camilla. “Liz had surgery that fused her C1 and C2 cervical vertebrae, then she wore a cervical halo head brace for three months. She was such a trooper and never complained. She told me ‘mommy, my head feels so good.’”

But the fusion of her first surgery failed. Camilla knew right away, because Lizzy became withdrawn and her behavior changed again. “The second surgery took 10 hours and again Liz wore the halo brace, this time for six long months.” explains Camilla. “Wearing the halo a second time was more difficult. Liz was older and she couldn’t be independent. She had to use a wheelchair at school to keep her from falling and she was dependent on someone to assist her with everything. Because Liz wasn’t very mobile and had become withdrawn, her friendships slowly slipped away - to the point where she didn’t have any friends.”

But there was one thing that would always make Lizzy smile during this difficult period: dogs.

“When we got on the waitlist for Canine Companions, we felt like we won the dog lottery,” says Camilla. Lizzy received Skilled Companion Kavi a beautiful golden retriever. “Lizzy almost immediately got in this routine for taking care of Kavi, and now she is more motivated to take care of herself. When I ask her to change the sheets on her bed, I come back and she’s already done it. I thought it would take years to see results like this!”

“Getting her an assistance dog has brought the old Lizzy back!” says Camilla. “She loves to take her dog out and show her off in public. She’ll carry on conversations with strangers with great confidence. Kavi has given her a sense of independence and self-esteem. Even in school she has grown so much. She serves as a TA to other students in her special-ed classes. I didn’t expect all of the benefits! Liz has blossomed and she is the happy, delightful girl I remember before she broke her neck.”

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