The Miracle of My Special Buddy

4 05 2010
  

Windsor B. & Me (Click to enlarge.)

Sir Windsor B. Derby, A.K.A. “Windsor B.” for “Windsor Buddy,” has been with me for six weeks.  I’m frequently asked, “How’s Windsor doing?”  I’m not sure if he’s my sidekick or I’m his, but he’s pretty special!  I’d like to share some of our special moments, the miracles I see with him being in my life!   

Windsor, Heather, and I met and started to train together on a Friday.  Windsor cried on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday when the trainer, Heather, left the home.  None of us were surprised knowing he’d experience mourning.  His whole life was changing and we were prepared to love him through it.  However, on Monday, the day Heather had to return to Kansas, we were NOT prepared for Windsor’s reaction.  (Yes, the training was fast.  However, I have past experience with dogs, my horse therapy provided recall/learning experience, Heather trained me – via phone, pictures, & videos, I watched videos/researched via the wonderful asset of the internet for over a year, and I will continue to train with a SD trainer here.)

On Monday, prior to Heather leaving, we trained at a local store.  With Windsor at my side, we all walked outside to hug and say our “goodbyes.”  Windsor watched Heather walk away and get into her vehicle.  Once she was out of view, he turned around with an “I’m ready” attitude.  It was a shocking moment!  His turn towards me held so much communication.  He picked up his “mantle” – “I’m Sir Windsor B. Derby!  I’m yours now.  I understand this is what I’ve been training to do.  I’m your service dog and I’m here to help you.”  There was no more mourning, no crying.  From that moment, he has been glued to me, alert to helping, working to understand my language, giving love, providing laughter, and wanting to help in any way possible.

Sir Windsor Provides Mobility & Medical Alert Assistance

Medical Alert Assistance:  Our third week together, I realized “The Windsor Look.”  “The Windsor Look” is a medical alert.  It’s a very serious, deep, and mature look on his face just prior to an episode starting.  “The Windsor Look” allows me to prepare and be aware.  I do not have seizures.  I have episodes.  My body shakes hard like a seizure.  I’m alert to my surroundings, but am unresponsive, uncommunicative.  There is no physical evidence to having a seizure.  Some episodes are long and strong, causing me to feel dazed and lethargic.  Others are mild and short, and once completed I’m able to carry on with my activity.  Episodes occur intermittently everyday.  Many service dogs receive specialized training to provide medical alert assistance.  Windsor, amazingly, is doing many of the skills due to his inner instincts.  Although he has not begun this specialized training, he already alerts me.  Without directive, he even stops playing with his toys – and he LOVES those!  He waits quietly, calmly at my feet or lies next to me on the bed for hours and hours, refusing to leave me, and refusing to eat.  He also provides pressure, a “grounding technique” many medical alert dogs are trained to do – again a specialty not yet trained to do.  It’s a miracle…

Mobility and Medical Alert Assistance:  In our fourth week together, we went to Trader Joe’s, a specialty food store which is a  love of mine, but is highly brain-stimulating.  Due to my brain issues, I’ve only been four times since 2005.  While pushing the cart, Windsor is to walk along the side of me.  He suddenly cut across the front of me, making his body parallel to the cart’s handle, blocking me from moving forward.  Obviously, I was forced to stop with a 75 lb. pup blocking me – “The Windsor Block.”  Within a brief moment, I fell.  Falling is a typical occurence for me due to my brain injury.  Windsor then proceeded to follow his mobility training by going “Down,” waiting for me to “Brace” on him, and “Stand(ing)” as I regained my balance.  I thought, “Hmmm…did he know I was going to fall?  Was he trying to alert me?”  It didn’t take long to know that the answer was, “YES!”  as I fell four more times in the store.  Prior to each fall he body-blocked me.  Again this is a technique service dogs are specially trained to do.  Windsor has not yet received this training, but was being planned in the future.  It is amazing that he’s already doing this…now if only his handler (that’s ME!) would LISTEN to him and stop trying to make him go back to my left or right.  Within the service dog world, it’s called “Intelligent Disobedience.”  (Ex:  A guide dog is given the command to go “Left,” but ignores it and goes “Right” because he sees danger.  The handler must respect the dog’s “Intelligent Disobedience.”)  I must respect his “Intelligent Disobedience,” his communicating to me, his ignoring my command.  He can decipher a chemical that is alerting him to my falling.  He’s doing what is right by blocking me, so that I’m aware and don’t get hurt. 

The bowling picture above and the video below was taken on our first Monday, about 20 minutes after Heather left.  You can witness Windsor B.’s attentive nature to me.  Windsor does quickly assist me when I fall, even without a spoken command, but at bowling I didn’t want his help.  Bowling is a favorite pastime and a physical/brain therapy for me – coordinating eye/hand/arm movements, working with noise distractions – from music, bowling balls, pins, people.  It’s shows some of my ongoing progress with noises, my eyes, physical movements, and at interacting with people while focusing on an activity.  By the way, I’ve only gotten a few SPARES in 9 months!…and Windsor had just turned 9 months when we met.  So, I think a SPARE is a great way to celebrate!!!  (I got a STRIKE that day too – my 2nd in 9 months!) 

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Let’s Go to the Horses!

13 03 2010

My dear friends – known and unknown, I’d like to introduce you to my special friends.  My “Big Buddies” are Angie’s horses with whom I have the wonderful priviledge of working with at horse therapy.  They mean the world to me and have been an amazing stimulant for my brain healing (TBI).  My “Little Buddy,” my service dog, Windsor, arrives in less than 2 weeks!  YIPPEE!!!   We are still raising funds to cover Windsor’s costs.  (Go to “Donations” for more info.)   

If you like to dance or just like to watch, all are welcome to a Benefit/Charity Dance to raise funds for Windsor and me on Saturday, March 20.  More info is on the “Put on Your Dancing Shoes!” post.  It’s just after this one.





Put On Your Dancing Shoes!

20 02 2010

All are invited…

Saturday, March 20

to a Benefit/Charity Dance to raise funds to bring Windsor and me together as a Service Dog Team.  

 

 

 

 

 

When:  Saturday, March 20, 7:00pm to 11:00pm
Location:  Avant Garde Dance Studio #2
                      4220 Scott Drive
                      Newport Beach, CA 92660
Directions:  View map at http://www.avantgardeballroom.com/directions.htm
Phone:  949-651-0630
Hosts:  Kathy Mardaresco & Mare Stephens

Advance Registration $25.00 by March 15th or $30.00 at the door includes:

Open Dancing – availabe to anyone regardless of dance experience
Buffet dinner/soft drinks
(2) Entries for Jack and Jill Contest
Opportunity to show off your routine (limted time/space)
Ribbons/certificates for performances
Present and past dance instructors will be judging!

Silent Auction to include such items as:

dance lessons
gift certificates
basket of wine
jewelry
day spa
and many more items

For advance registration, please notify marerecycler@gmail.comAlso, please be sure to register for your routine by emailing marerecycler@gmail.com.  

If you cannot make the event, but would like to make a donation, please send all proceeds to PayPal (Click on “Donations” above.) or send a check made payable to Christy Miller at:
Hope for Christy
PO Box 1358
Lake Forest, CA 92630

Invite your friends and have some fun!  Before my TBI, Traumatic Brain Injury, I used to dance and I still love it in my heart.  I will be there in spirit!

Donation Update:  Windsor’s total cost is $7,000 for his purchase, training, service dog equipment, and medical.  As of February 14, about $5,000 has been donated.  Windsor is a mobility assistance dog who will help me open doors, retrieve dropped items, provide balance assistance, alert people in public that I’m a slower, disabled person, and much more.  Windsor arrives at the end of March.  Yippee!





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.

 





Watch Me Work…Video Update 12/20/09

20 12 2009

Donation Update:  As of December 20, $1,850 has been donated towards Windsor’s total cost of $7,000 which includes his purchase, training, service dog equipment, and medicalHis expected arrival is in March 2010.  Thanks everyone for your help!

In this video taken in mid-October six weeks into his training, Windsor is almost four months old.  Heather, the service dog trainer, and Windsor demonstrate his first week of advanced training being off-leash.  You will notice distractions and yet Windsor continues to stay focused on listening and following Heather’s commands, a must for a service dog.

Here is a preview of a few of the commands with an explanation as to how he will use them as a service dog, specifically a mobility assistance dog.

“Wait.” – Windsor, I’ll give you another command in a moment.  For instance, going up an escalator, Windsor will need to “Wait” on the stairs with me, rather than continue to climb up them.  He likes climbing stairs!

“Stay.” – This command communicates that I’m going away, but I’ll come back.  At four months old, Windsor could remain in a directed “Stay” position for ten minutes with Heather out of site.

“Down.” – When I fall or collapse to the ground, Windsor will be directed to go “Down” with me.  When possible, I will then “Brace” on his mobility harness, which he will soon be trained to wear, and push up to stand and regain my balance.

“Stand.” – After I’ve fallen and I’m in the process of getting up, I will direct Windsor to “Stand” as I hold onto his harness and continue to regain my balance.

“Fast.” and “Slow.” – These commands will help Windsor acclimate to my varied paces.  Sometimes I take off quickly and other times I’m more snail-like with my right side dragging especially.

I introduce to you “Sir Windsor B. Derby” hard at work! 

Have fun watching!  I’m very proud of him! 

 To increase the size of the video BEFORE WATCHING, hold down the “Control” key [ctrl] and the plus sign [+] at the same time to reach the desired size.  To decrease the size of the video, hold down the “Control” key [ctrl] and the minus sign [-].  On a Mac, use the [Command] key.