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People - Epilepsy can’t dim girl’s dream

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Service dog will help in college and career

By Wesley Kerrick

 

Day by day, Madisyn Caudill gets out of bed, goes to school and does her best to earn good grades, which sounds unremarkable until you imagine yourself in her place.

If savoring one more year with school friends and nailing down college plans are hallmarks of a typical Spencer County High School senior, Madisyn is typical. But Madisyn isn’t typical.

She was born with a right frontal lobe defect, which has caused epilepsy since childhood. Her condition became evident when, as a 7-year-old, she fell to the ground and experienced full-body convulsions – what’s known as a “grand mal” or “tonic-clonic” seizure. Nowadays she sometimes has “absence” seizures, staring off into space for a few seconds before regaining consciousness, without awareness of what happened.

She’s also been diagnosed with anxiety. That combination means she must take six medicines every day, with side effects that include forgetfulness and exhaustion throughout the day.

Even on medication, Madisyn still has to be careful not to overextend herself. She can’t stay out late with friends. She’s had enough seizures by now that she can recognize when another might happen, and when she gets that feeling, she stays home and rests.

But Madisyn doesn’t go around asking for sympathy.

“You’re not defined by your disability,” she says. “You’re defined by how hard you fight your disability.”

So she’s set to leave home Aug. 10 and move into a dorm at Morehead State University, where she’ll prepare for her dream job as veterinarian.

“I feel like I’ve wanted to do that forever,” she says.

Specifically, she wants to become a large-animal vet, caring for sick or injured cattle, horses, sheep, goats or pigs. After undergrad, Madisyn plans to get a veterinary degree and then start going out on calls to farms, perhaps back home in Spencer County or wherever she’s needed.

Creatures of comfort

Madisyn lives in the Meadowview subdivision off Normandy Road with her mother Alicia Caudill, a registered nurse, her father Mike Caudill, a mechanic, and her brother Seth Caudill, an eighth-grader at Spencer County Middle School.

In the Caudill’s living room, a framed photo shows Madisyn snuggling up to some friendly pink pigs. It was taken the day she was released from a week long stay in the hospital due to a bout of seizures.

“The first place that she went was with her pigs,” recalls Alicia. “The animals help to calm her.”

Madisyn is an avid participant in 4-H and FFA. After school, she works at Elk Creek Animal Hospital. In the summer, she and her family raise pigs in their backyard, and Madisyn takes them to shows.

“Doing that has helped to keep her calm and relaxed,” Alicia says.

When it comes to raising healthy pigs, the aspiring vet knows what she’s doing.

“You want to start them out on about 24 percent protein feed,” Madisyn explains, “and as they get older, and they’re finishing, you want to add a feed with more conditioner in it and lower their protein levels, so that they kind of soften out in their muscling.”

There’s more science and math involved than most people might imagine.

“You learn the “x = mx + b,” and you learn how to plug in the weight of your pig to the protein amount.”

A courageous send-off

When Madisyn has a seizure at school, the faculty and staff know the drill: call her mom, who previously worked at Signature Healthcare and now works from home as a nurse for Humana.

The combination of Alicia’s medical instincts and her compassion as a mom make it hard to send her daughter off to Morehead, nearly a two-hour drive away. Even though the university has agreed to give Madisyn the accommodations she needs and a roommate who will be prepared, that doesn’t assuage the worry.

But Alicia isn’t letting worry stand in the way of her daughter’s education.

“That was never, never, ever even an issue,” she says. “You go to college. That’s what you do. We kind of set that in stone early on.”

A canine companion

One of Alicia’s cousins is married to an Air Force veteran who has post-traumatic stress disorder and epilepsy, and he has a service dog that helps him navigate those challenges.

That got the Caudills thinking.

Madisyn applied to Chandler, Arizona-based K-9 Lifeline Dog Training and was approved for a service dog of her own, which will be trained to meet her specific needs. The dog will be trained to pick up on any indications that Madisyn might be about to have a seizure and to alert her so that she can go to a safe place. The dog will also notice if she becomes anxious and will respond by either lying on top of her, jumping up or asking for attention, which will help calm her down and remind her to try to relax.

The dog is being trained around farm animals so it won’t get spooked when it’s with Madisyn while she’s feeding pigs or, someday, tending to a sick cow or sheep on a client’s farm. That’s important, because the dog will stay with her as long as it lives.

A community venture

But service dogs don’t come cheap. Madisyn’s will cost $9,000, plus the cost of the trainer’s airfare and hotel and meal costs while he’s in town for seven to 10 days. During that time he’ll teach her how to handle the dog and help the dog get acquainted with its new owner.

“As a parent, it’s all worth it,” Alicia says. “If somebody said an elephant would keep her calm, we would buy an elephant.”

The dog is scheduled to arrive July 23 and must be paid for by then.

So far, the Caudills have paid about $2,000 out of pocket, plus another $1,000 they’ve received through donations. They’re seeking the community’s help to raise the rest.

On March 26, the Caudills will host a golf scramble at Tanglewood Golf Course. Registration and lunch will start at noon, followed by a 1 p.m. tee-off. If you pay in advance, the cost is $55 per person for a team of four people. It’s $65 the day of the event.

On April 16 at 4 p.m., they’ll hold a benefit concert and a silent auction at the Spencer County Fairgrounds. Alicia’s brother is one of the members of local southern rock band Van Waylon, which will headline the show.

The Caudills are looking for additional bands. They’re also seeking items to be sold in the auction and volunteers to help run a cornhole tournament and coordinate activities for the kids.

Paying it forward

At the benefit concert, they hope to raise more than enough money for Madisyn’s dog. They haven’t determined yet exactly who will receive the extra money, but they want it to go to another local young person who’s dealing with a disability.

That kind of concern for others fits right along with Madisyn’s dreams. “I think it would be cool to speak to children with epilepsy,” she says.

Looking back on her childhood, she can empathize with kids who are going through the same experiences she had.

“I wish I would’ve had somebody to do that to me, (to) have somebody to talk to me and be like: ‘It’s going to be OK.’”

To find out more about the fundraisers, to sign up to participate or to make a contribution, call Alicia Caudill at (502) 572-5666.