The Team

Team: Maddie Harrison & Lilly

Disability: Spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy

Partnership Type: Facilitated Home Helpmate for Mobility and possible Medical Alert                           

Handler: Margarita Escaler - mother

Match Date: September 7, 2020

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About Maddie

Maddie is a 12 year old who has participated in two marathons and traveled to multiple continents. Before the pandemic, she spent her days in school, but she is doing school at home now. She lives with her mother Margarita, her father Stuart, her older brother William, and her younger sister Emma, and the family spends time together riding bikes, running, swimming, and playing. They regularly visit extended family in the Philippines and Australia, and often have family visiting them, so their home is an active place.

Maddie was born with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy and needs help with all activities of daily life. She is in a wheelchair but does not move it herself. Her comprehension is somewhat impaired but her true impairment in connecting with people is in expression. Maddie is non-verbal and has limited facial expression, so she is unable to easily communicate. When she is motivated, she uses a Tobii eye gaze communication device to share thoughts, and she has used that to express her frustration at not being able to get out of her wheelchair and play with other children. She also vocalizes when she is emotional.

Maddie spends a significant amount of her day in therapeutic activities designed to strengthen her muscles and increase her independent abilities. She has therapeutic devices to help her stand and walk. These therapies are difficult and some, like walking, require motivation on Maddie’s part to push through. Movement for Maddie requires tremendous effort so the family makes sure there are plenty of fun and enriching activities in Maddie’s day to balance the work she does in therapy.

Maddie’s classroom at school had a therapy dog visit regularly and Maddie had a very positive relationship with Dexter. Maddie opened up before and during these sessions, and would communicate verbally and also ask for her Tobii to communicate. She also used the dog for physical therapy, sitting on the floor with the dog to work on her core strength. The positive experience with Dexter is what introduced the idea of an assistance dog to Maddie’s parents.

Maddie has a seizure disorder which is currently very well controlled by medication. She has brief breakthrough seizures once or twice a year which typically show up as a precursor to an illness. She also has chronic lung disease so illness can be a significant risk for Maddie. Once when they were in the Philippines, Maddie got sick and went into a coma.

About the Partnership

The most significant impacts of Maddie’s condition on her are:

  1. Maddie’s ability to connect with people is heavily influenced by her difficulty communicating with them and resulting assumptions about her comprehension.
  2. Maddie has to constantly work to improve or even maintain her physical abilities. The therapies can be exhausting, frustrating, and demotivating.
  3. Maddie is unable to control her own environment and can’t always express her desires. She has anxiety episodes where she seems quite frightened, and after being in the hospital she will cry when left alone.

Her family hopes for several things from Maddie's partnership with Lilly:

  1. Social therapy: That a dog would provide companionship and emotional support, especially during anxiety episodes, and would provide a point of connection for her with other people.
  2. Social therapy: That a dog could support physical therapy by providing motivation for tasks like walking with the gait trainer or sitting up with the dog and providing physical support like sitting on Maddie’s legs or sitting by her therapy ball to keep it from rolling away. That a dog would provide Maddie with a new motivation to communicate with other people.
  3. Go get help: That a dog could get a family member when Maddie is in distress. This happens when Maddie falls out of her wheelchair or her head slumps and may get caught behind the head rest.
  4. Medical alert: That a dog could possibly alert to Maddie’s oncoming illness or to distress like anxiety.
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