Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Raising funds for Gillian's service dog

Since the day she was born, Gillian Rose Rezanson has had 20 to 100 seizures every single day.
At eight years old, the Ellison elementary school student is less than two developmentally, and her severe epilepsy means she has spent months at B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.

Despite the thousands of seizures she’s endured, the youngster smiles day after day through all her many challenges.

“She is our angel girl, and she glows with warmth and love for all who get close to her, touching and kissing whoever comes close,” said her mom, Liz Rezanson.

Gillian has always needed one-to-one support and constant care and attention. If Liz needs to run downstairs to get the laundry, she can’t leave her daughter alone, for fear she will seizure or get into a dangerous situation because she has no understanding of danger.

But support is on the way, thanks to 4 Paws for Ability, an Ohio-based organization that trains and provides service dogs to families and children who struggle with life’s daily challenges and who would otherwise be turned away by other agencies.

The dog will be trained to accompany Gillian everywhere and will be tethered to her to prevent her from getting into dangerous situations. The dog will be trained to alert Gillian’s family and caregivers of big seizures by barking, and it will comfort Gillian through her many seizures, retrieve objects she drops as a result of her seizures and help her get up when she is unsteady after seizures. It will also support her through her many medical appointments and procedures.

“This dog would be a unique source of support for Gillian in the home, at school and during hospital stays and an incredible comfort to our family knowing Gillian is never alone when she is seizing,” said Liz.

In her research, Liz discovered that most agencies will not place with children and also have extremely long waitlists. 4Paws is the only agency the family has found that can meet their needs.
The family is looking at a 10 to 12-month wait for a dog, shortened from the usual four to six years because the Rezansons are raising the funds needed.

“It is much quicker than if they have to raise the funds for each dog, so the dog is so-called free, and we’re not paying for it as such, but fundraising as volunteers for 4Paws to raise the money needed, to train the dog,” said Liz.

The funds needed are substantial — $13,000 US — and the Rezansons have been busy, sending out 100 letters to service organizations and businesses, placing donation boxes around town and accepting donations through their website or through Gillian’s trust fund at CIBC.

Once funds are in place, the Liz, husband Brian, Gillian and her siblings, Tristan, 13, and Amy, 11, will travel to Xenia, Ohio for two weeks of intensive training (oldest sibling Daniel, 27, has left home) with the dogs and trainers. Once funds have been raised for the dog, the family will continue fundraising for their travel costs.

“Ideally, they recommend the whole family go and this is what we are aiming to do as Gillian’s siblings are old enough and they need to know how to handle the dog, plus this dog will be part of our family and I think we all need to be there for that reason,” said Liz.

While the family faces many challenges, Liz said a smile from Gillian goes a long way, and they are sustained, also, by their faith.

“I feel surrounded by friends, family and community, as though there is a circle around our family that God’s love flows through these people to us.”

The saying, “It take a village to raise a child,” is particularly apt in Gillian’s case — Liz said it takes a community. And, while it’s possible to give her daughter some independence, it takes therapeutic solutions.

“This dog will truly enhance her life, giving her more independence and the support she needs but we will never be able to get her this dog without community helping us.”

There are a number of ways the community can help. Donation containers — next to Gillians’ photo — are at Save-On Foods, Hunter’s Store, Lyon’s Den Hair Design, Milla and Sol Children’s Boutique, Lavington Shell Market, Lavington Superette, Future Shop, Cotton’s Chocolates and The Morning Star.

As well, the leadership clubs at Ellison and Mission Hill elementary schools and Vernon secondary schools are planning fundraising events.

“The kids in our community are great, very loving, and we are thankful for all the time they are giving to this.”

Donations can be made at any CIBC, transit #00260, account #81-71939. For more information, please see www.hopeforgillian.ca, where online donations can also be made, or www.4pawsforability.org

“One of my goals for the website is for it to be a tribute to our community and family that makes things possible for Gillian, such as the volunteers that make it possible for her to ski with us as a family and horseback ride, and the people who give to Variety, so Gillian can have a tandem bike to ride with her family.”


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