A Gift Well Worth the Wait…

6 04 2010

After waiting over a year for a service dog, here are pictures of us meeting and video training clips worth a 1,000 words…

My thanks to EVERYONE who helped to make this dream come true – praying, donating financially, sending notes/emails/Facebook!

Windsor is 9 months old and will receive more training for mobility assistance.  For now, the goal is to become acquainted as a service dog (SD) team with basics and for him to learn my pace, abilities, etc. 

Some of Windsor’s Work:  Windsor enjoys tugging open/closing doors, picking up what I drop in the house/public, “PROUDLY” carrying items for me, going slowly up/down stairs as I work to stabilize, and laying at my feet as I work on the computer…OOPS!  Correction-ON my feet slobbering!  When he puts on his vest to go out in public, he’s all business!  It’s time to work!

Some of Windsor’s Play:  When he is “Released” from work, he becomes part “Marley.”  Windsor enjoys romping in the grass and chewing up branches (Anyone need help cutting down a tree?  He’ll gnaw it down!).  He’s clearing out the long-hated, ant-carrying ivy in my parents’ lawn…a cheap gardener.  He also loves raw bones (Yucky!), tearing up stuffed animals (They should be headless.), sleeping on MY pillows (Get off!), and like all retrievers, carrying a ball in his mouth while “telling you about his proud catch.”  He’s a talker – sounds like a happy “look at me” growl. 

He’s a love, follows me everywhere, has claimed me with the full understanding that I’m the one to help, and does his best to help.  Anyone around me can already see that he is igniting pathways in my brain to recall/activate, and this brings healing.  He helps to “clear the moss” off my unused brain paths.  Over the next year we will both “season” together…much to be thankful for and to keep striving ahead for more healing.


Hearts Bursting with Pride

25 01 2010

Donation Update:  As of January 25, $4,100 has been donated towards Windsor’s total cost of $7,000 which includes his purchase, training, service dog equipment, and medical.  He arrives here in March 2010.  Thank you everyone for your help!


Today Windsor took his first “Public Access Test” for proper public behaviors and the performance of certain skills/tasks required for his service dog certification.  The proctor and the other trainers testing were completely amazed and impressed by this little guy who just turned 7 months yesterday.  They had never seen a 7 month old greatly exceed the expectations of the test.  One of the goals is to see how the dog responds to stressful situations in public.  Because Windsor was scoring the highest possible scores across the board, the proctor “upped the ante” of stress on him.

Below, are 3 EXAMPLES from the test.  I hope you enjoyed the  MOVIE of Windsor I was able to create from past photos and videos.  It is my first ever!  The movie is a GREAT piece of evidence that my brain continues to heal while on the Brain Protocol, even while experiencing some “bumps in the road” with my photosensitivity from PTVS (Post Trauma Vision Syndrome) this week.  Music is still a struggle for me to listen to, especially all instrumental, but I was able to concentrate and enjoy finding orchestration that matched, fit the mood.

  1. Normally, while in a restaurant full of good smells, the dog is tested with SMALL bits of food (i.e. a few pieces of hot dog, popcorn, chicken, etc.) thrown around him for a few minutes (5 minutes).  They are to “Leave it” without any sniffing, licking, or showing curiosity about the food.  With Windsor, the proctor pulled out BOWLS, mounds of food and placed these items, including a WHOLE hot dog, chicken nuggets, etc. around him for 20-25 minutes.  She also placed some on his PAW which he refrained from investigating.  It was a “Piece of Cake” for Windsor!
  2. Service animals must not be startled by or fearful of loud, sudden noises.  The proctor, who typically walks behind the trainer and testing dog, drops items or makes sudden, surprising noises.  With Windsor, the proctor made it harder by SLAMMING together skillets, baking sheets, etc.  No problem!
  3. Windsor passed 99%, scoring the highest scores possible on all requirements but the “stranger approach.”  Strangers – men, women, and children – are asked to do a variety of things, such as, step on their tail, reach out and pet, etc.  Heather was asked to drop the leash and walk 20 feet away.  Six feet is the norm.  Windsor was calm with the strangers and remained in the down position, but his bottom wiggled.  Unfortunately, no wiggly bottom is allowed.  Windsor’s exception to the “norm” was when a child was asked to SKIP over his back.  Although Windsor LOVES children, he didn’t get up to play and he didn’t flinch with the distraction.
  4. There are many who love Windsor and who are INCREDIBLY PROUD of him today!  It was a 2 HOUR TEST, again, longer than usual.  There are tears from our hearts bursting with pride!  He passed 99% of the test.  That is even more remarkable given his young age.  He has to work on the behaviors during the “stranger approach.”  There is no doubt Windsor will soon pass the “Public Access Test.”  Therefore, because he does qualify, Windsor’s service dog ID tags are on the way and he is officially part of the US Service Dog Registry.  This allows Windsor to be protected under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), along with me.  Thank you Heather and thank you Windsor for working so hard to help me!

Remembering Life, Meanings, and Me…Update 1/18/10

18 01 2010

Donation Update:  As of January 18, $3,788 has been donated towards Windsor’s total cost of $7,000 which includes his purchase, training, service dog equipment, and medical.  His expected arrival is in March 2010.  Thank you everyone for your help! 

I love people! I miss people! In the summer, I began a new regimen in addition to the Brain Protocol. It is a remedy that helps to heal/stimulate the parts of the brain that cope with people, a great struggle for many TBIs (Traumatic Brain Injuries). A few months ago, I began to have “people parties.” My brain begins to crave people and I go looking for them. I may only need to get downstairs to find a person or I may go outside to observe someone walking nearby in the neighborhood. Often, it is just the act of being around a person/people. Most of the time, I just watch what the person is doing, because it is typically a struggle to be around people speaking, to have a conversation, and to understand the person’s fast-spoken words. Interacting is too stimulating, too painful, too confusing, and it just plain overtaxes my brain. I miss being with people. I was a people person and gained energy from them prior to my TBI, but now that same adrenaline rush wears me out for days, weeks, even longer.

On Monday of this past week, I realize I went to the largest, interactive “people party” in years. My old school where I taught, Valencia Elementary, is raising donations for Windsor. For the classrooms, my mom, my caregiver, and I made donation buckets, something I was thrilled and proud to accomplish. Over twenty buckets is a major task for anyone, but especially for a TBI. It was then a great stretch for me to ride in the car that far due to nausea, jitteriness, loud/repetitive noises, and the eye/head pain it causes. I enjoyed visiting with the new principal and past co-workers during their lunch. After, I went into one sixth-grade classroom. It was a bit of “deja vu” for me. My brain was racing and trying so hard to hang on as a past co-worker and I began to teach the students some about disabilities and service animals. I spoke pretty well. I did get confused, but for my first time “up at bat” in years, I have to put it on my success list.

It’s typical for many TBIs to be confused with words, to struggle to find their place in a conversation. For months I have practiced how to answer people’s questions because I don’t respond well to spontaneous topics, questions. I was STUMPED by two topics that arose while at Valencia. Following my time at the school, for the rest of the week, I mentally became exhausted, couldn’t think clearly, had to isolate myself from the stimulation of people, and my head pain greatly increased. After a week, I’m beginning to think clearly and I needed to write out some thoughts.

I’ve decided to revisit the two topics that stumped me by writing about them in my blog. It is a release for me and perhaps it will help someone understand people who struggle with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).
1)  Am I embarrassed?  I remember hearing the word “embarrassed” twice.  The first time I heard the word I responded, “Yes,” but I sat confused by what the word meant.  The second time I heard the word I thought, “No,” but what does that word mean again?  I was lost, confused, unable to find the meaning of the word in my brain.  Therefore, I gave the impression that I am embarrassed.  For the record…

“No, I am not embarrassed.  I am privileged.”

What do I mean by that?  For days, the meaning of “embarrassed” has been finding its way back into my memory, my recollection, my understanding.  I had to look up the definition in the Webster’s Dictionary (something I use a lot while relearning words).  I learned that it means to feel ill at ease, to be self-conscious, at times to feel ashamed.  I feel none of these.  I love my life!  I’m proud of how incredibly hard I’ve worked, how I’ve fought to hang on to life, and how my faith sustains me through the struggles.  I’m so INCREDIBLY THANKFUL for the Brain Protocol and all that it is helping me to regain.  I am privileged as a TBI to have regained some abilities, activities in my life.  My TBI journey is not just about me!  I fight everyday knowing that the Brain Protocol has the power to impact so many lives that have been damaged, destroyed because of a brain trauma/injury.  Since August 2007, I have progressed so much.  That’s a privilege!  I keep the faith in my healing process so that others may have HOPE through the Brain Protocol for their own healing journey.  To me, “Hope for Christy” means “Hope for others.”

2)  Am I in pain?  Funny, I don’t recall people talking about this around me.  I try to keep my focus away from the pain, but “Yes,” I’m in pain.  Prior to the Brain Protocol, I lived in such agony.  The only part of my body that didn’t, doesn’t, hasn’t known pain on this journey are my fingernails.  Since being on the Brain Protocol, I understand that some of my pain is “healing pain.”  No pain, no gain.  This past summer, I told Dr. Abell I was beginning to experience moments with less head pain.  I didn’t/don’t know how to describe it, but it’s different.  Sometimes the pain is more, sometimes it’s less.  Many disabled people live with constant pain as I do throughout my limbs, back, stomach, chest, face, eyes, ears, head, etc.  However,  I know I’m OK.  It’s like getting a cut.  Yes, you are in pain, but you also know you are OK.  I know I’m OK because I understand my disabilities and I understand that the Brain Protocol is trying to heal or make better some, perhaps all, of my disabilities.  I prefer not to share about my pain, yet perhaps it helps someone understand certain disabilities.  I share the pain issue not from self-pity, but with the perhaps chance it may inspire someone to enter the medical and/or medical research field.  Perhaps in the sharing, it has made another person who suffers from a TBI or a disability feel less lonely.  Perhaps my hope gives you hope!  Or to put it another way, since there has been so much “Hope for Christy,” perhaps today there can be “Hope from Christy.”     

Waiting for the Butler…Update 01/10/10

10 01 2010

Donation Update:  As of January 10, $2,975 has been donated towards Windsor’s total cost of $7,000 which includes his purchase, training, service dog equipment, and medical.  His expected arrival is in March 2010.  Thank you everyone for your help!

I miss Windsor every week while waiting for him, but this week was an even greater week of anticipation.  My paralysis issues have been stronger this week which makes me rely on asking others for more help than usual.  My preference is to be as independent as possible, but this week independence was less possible.  When Windsor, whom I refer to as my “butler” in jest, arrives, I will ask him to assist me rather than a person. 

The "Butler" Pose...How may I help you?

Here are some examples:
  1. I was unable to reach my arms up to get a glass from the cabinet.  I was also unable to reach out to push the button on the water dispenser.  Windsor could have opened the door to the garage, retrieved a water bottle, and returned to place it in my lap or hands.
  2. I was unable to open the refrigerator door.  I was unable to reach my bagel which was in a sealed plastic bag.  Windsor, using a tug, could have opened the refrigerator door and been directed to retrieve my breakfast, my bagel.
  3. I could turn door handles, but I could not pull the door open, nor could I close the door with a foot, a hip push, nor an arm/hand push.  Windsor, using a tug, can pull the door open and push the door closed.
  4. Out in public, my balance was a struggle and I needed to hold onto a person to climb up/down the curb/stairs.  Eventually, when Windsor is older and finished with the majority of his growing, he will be trained to wear a mobility harness which I can hold onto for stability to climb up/down the curb/stairs.  (Windsor will be 9 months old when I receive him.  The trainer will return in August to add to his skills.)

A fabulous success from my week is that I rode an elevator for the first time in a few years!  As expected, I was a bit off balance and dizzy after completing the ride, but overall it was a great and wonderful accomplishment.  However, I needed Windsor to push the buttons for me.  I had to ask a person to push the button.

Here are two videos of Windsor.  The first video demonstrates his learning process to retrieve items I may need.  The second video shows his advancement in this task.  A service dog learns to “Look!” at the item, “Get it!”, and then “Give!” to place it in my lap or hands, depending on my mobility at the moment.


Big Bunches of Thanks…Update 11/29/09

29 11 2009
It’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving and in the past week, I’m definitely headed back in the direction of healing. Although my speech and people interaction is very limited, I still have much, much, much for which to rejoice! My ability to venture out into the community began to kick in again. Yeah! On Monday, with a caregiver, I walked to the grocery store and bought one head of lettuce and figured out how to pay in cash – a slow processing, but successful moment! Tuesday, Mom and I studied and played with a few dog toys, figured out what my hand coordination could do, and I selected two “Windsor” toys. Making selections is a difficult, tiring, and often painful task for me, but with the success it gives me the “Happy Brain Dance!” On Wednesday, after being virtually unable to since September, I made it back “to work” for my horse rehabilitation therapy. It felt so good! – no speaking abilities, but I walked, played, and groomed them quietly! They can hear me! I have definitely enjoyed the weekend working quietly on new tasks – hand writing three notes, making Windsor’s door tugs, and “TALKING” through typing. It’s like my brain is a “fireball” finding words and holding them long enough to type! This is often what happens when new abilities kick in. It’s full speed ahead for awhile and then it may stop for a time to focus on a different task to relearn or learn.

Angie (my horse trainer), MooMoo, Christy

 Some of you have written questions about my horse rehabilitation therapy and I’ll be happy to share the joy and details in the future.  Here is one recent happy moment including some background information.  Angie, my horse trainer, has a background as a workout jockey at Santa Anita Racetrack and she worked with the William Shatner Rehabilitation Center in Los Angeles.  Imperor Too, “Imp,” is an Arabian horse, white in color (Angie, I know the proper term for his coloring is “flea speckled gray,” but that’s kind of icky!), and is almost 27 years old.  After having been a parade horse and a long distance runner, Imp is now retired.  Back “in the day,” Arnold Schwarzenegger, the present governor of California, tried to buy him from Angie after a parade.  No way!  Imp is hers since he was a yearling, a baby.  When I began therapy, I did not work with Imp.  In about my second month of therapy, I overheard Angie discussing her horse with a brain disease that causes seizures.  I digest new information slowly, and was unable to communicate my desire to meet this horse.  At this point in my healing, I was barely, barely speaking.  I would lay awake for hours, frequently all night, practicing a few words, or one sentence.  All week I mentally practiced, “Could I please meet your horse with a brain disease?”  I felt so drawn to him.  I just had to meet him.
The next week I got my sentence out. I spoke! Angie was happy to introduce me to Imp, but she cautioned me about his lethargy and unresponsiveness to people. To the lethargy – I’ve been there, still get it and to the unresponsiveness – I get it, still have it! Not wanting to over stimulate him, I was allowed into the stall and just went to touch him. My voice couldn’t speak to him, but as I’ve learned over the years, my mind still has silent, mental conversations. I hugged him. I loved him. I spoke to him without words. He understood. Over the past year, Imp and I have an unexplainable relationship. I love all of the horses, but there is something special that he and I give each other. 

Horse Costumes Fashioned by Christy (From left to right: Tank, Christy, Imp, Eagle, Angie, and MooMoo)


Due to my September setback, I missed weeks and weeks of my horse rehab therapy. I just made it back! The first day I just went to give and get lovin’. When I got out of the car, my feet, in my “funny coordinated run,” took off to the stalls. I bypassed the other 21 horses I greet on the way and made a beeline for Imp’s stall. I didn’t have speech and couldn’t call out to him, but Imp saw me and let out the longest, loudest, most boisterous screaming neigh I’ve ever heard from him. My words exactly buddy! I just hung on him and hugged him! True to himself, he gave me lots of nose nuzzles and head rubs up my back and tummy, signs of affection. I so missed him and I’m happy to say he missed me too! People don’t always greet each other in such a loud and effervescent manner, but love expressed through people’s words or actions, or love freely given by animals, is a heart warming moment in my book!

Speaking of hearts, Heather, Windsor’s trainer said, “He melts the hearts of all who meet him.” And, boy, is his heart getting big! Just prior to five months old, he weighed 50 lbs.! That’s large for his age, but as a mobility service dog, he needs to be big and strong for the times I “Brace” on him when I lose my balance or am getting up from having fallen to the ground. Keep growing little guy! Notice in the pics, he’s not all work and no play. Have you ever seen the “Easter Bunny Dog” before? In the pics where he is in a restaurant, notice his calm public etiquette, a service dog requirement – seen but not heard (no barking, no frolicking, no sniffing or eating food from the floor/ground). Also in the pics are Windsor’s doors for training. “Up!” “Push!” He and I, as a team, will open doors that are difficult for me in public. Right now, he is too young, so Heather is “the muscle” and Windsor goes through the motions.

Special thanks too…
  •  Heather, Jeremy, and the kids – Ben (a new teenager!), Allie, Amy and Willie for raising, training, and loving Windsor.
  • Windsor’s “neighbors” for being his distractions and to the people/city of Spring Hill, Kansas for being his training ground.
  • The gentleman who offered to pay Heather’s flight from Kansas to California (and back!) with Windsor.
Update: As of December 7, 2009, $1,300 has been donated towards Windsor’s total cost of $7,000.  (Windsor arrives in March.)  I am so grateful for every precious donation.  All of the encouraging notes and acts of kindness keep sending me to my knees, to the ground – literally. These surprises of joy give me a little brain blip and I fall to the ground. There have been so many happy surprises this week, I’m thinking of staying on the ground! Thank you everyone!

Enjoy the latest pictures of Windsor. (Click on picture to enlarge it.)

Heather and I are training at the mall.

Run, Windsor, run! It's time to play, not work.

I'm "Sir Windsor" practicing good table manners - no sniffing, barking, frolicking or eating.

Chase a bunny? I am a bunny!

Table for two, please. I must be calm and focused on my work in public.

Advanced off-leash training