Eight-year-old Kierra Grace Thompson snuggles on the couch of her Green home next to her brother, Cameron, 9. Their mother is always nearby. Katie Thompson never knows when Kierra Grace might suffer a seizure.
Sometimes the girl’s lips turn blue and she is unable to hold up her head. Other times she may drop and go into a full-body grand mal seizure, which can be life-threatening. Since she was 11 months old, Kierra Grace has suffered thousands of seizures.
For a human, the seizures come without warning. A dog, however, can be trained to sense them. That’s why the Thompsons hope to buy a yellow Labrador Retriever trained to alert them before Kierra Grace begins to have a seizure. The catch is the Thompsons must raise $10,000 to buy the dog from the nonprofit Little Angels Service Dogs in Santee, Calif.
Musicians for Mobility, a group that raises funds for disabled kids, has stepped in to help. They have lined up nine bands to play at a benefit concert July 27. Money raised from contributions, raffle sales and an auction will go toward getting Kierra Grace her dog.
Having the dog will allow Kierra Grace more freedom of movement and her single mother a chance to rest from a life of constant vigilance.
“I will feel at peace, and I will be able to sleep better at night,” Thompson said.
Thompson said her daughter had no problems until her first grand mal seizure.
“Until 11 months, she was developing on target. She was talking. She was completely normal,” Thompson said.
After Kierra Grace’s seizures began, Thompson discovered her daughter was born with many tumors on her brain due to a rare condition called tuberous sclerosis. The tumors are not cancerous, but they have led to developmental delays, autistic behaviors and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, the most severe type of childhood epilepsy.
In 2008, doctors at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland inserted a vagal nerve stimulator to help control Kierra Grace’s seizures. When it doesn’t work, Thompson can swipe a magnet outside it as a second attempt to stop the seizures. In January, a check of the device’s battery showed that over a six-month period, Thompson had swiped the magnet in an effort to stop 980 seizures.
In addition to her more dangerous seizures, Kierra Grace suffers from frequent absence seizures, in which she suddenly stops moving.
“She just looks like somebody hit the pause button,” Thompson said.
As her seizures progressed over months and years, Kierra Grace began to show signs of autism. She spins and flutters her hands. For years she could not make eye contact or stand to be touched. In many ways, Thompson said her daughter’s development was frozen at about 11 months.
Thompson said her daughter has made progress in recent years. She smiles spontaneously and when asked to say “cheese.” She makes eye contact and allows her mother to hold her. Her enjoyment of snuggling on the couch with Cameron is also a sign of progress.
Thompson said a seizure dog will provide comfort for Kierra Grace, but more important, it would be able to retrieve medications in an emergency and warn when seizures are on the way. Months before they get the dog, Thompson will swab sweat and saliva samples on days Kierra Grace has seizures and also on good days. The dog will be trained to recognize the scent of a seizure. Some dogs will bark, some will pant and some will move in circles to alert their owners to the onset of a seizure, Thompson said.
Though it is stressful trying to raise funds and waiting for the dog, Thompson said her faith in God keeps her going.
“I firmly believe the right dog will come to us at the right time,” Thompson said.
Julie Sislin, organizer for Musicians for Mobility, hopes to help make that happen.
She said the group’s third annual benefit concert will be held July 27 at Pyrenees Vineyard South in Myrtle Creek. The event will feature food vendors, beer and wine, face painting, hair design and other fun. Bands Dylan James, Simpley Dy, Hemlock Lane, Toyz, Stepping on Embers, When We Were Young, Aces Wild, Rag Doll and Syke Rawk have signed on to play.
Most of the money made from the benefit will come from auctioning prizes, including an overnight stay at Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville, a ride in a Cessna 172 airplane, a party at Splitz in Roseburg and a $300 tool set.
Each year Musicians for Mobility chooses a different beneficiary for the concert. Sislin said she was told by a friend about Kierra Grace’s need for a dog and loved Thompson’s reaction at the news her daughter had been chosen.
“You would have thought I just handed her a check from the Publisher’s Clearinghouse,” Sislin said.
Donations for Kierra Grace’s seizure dog can also be made directly through the Little Angels website at littleangelsservicedogs.org/pediatricseizureassistance.html.
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.