PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — When Angel Parsons was born prematurely seven years ago, her caregivers knew she could experience developmental delays and other health problems. But when the child began having focal seizures at age 2, her grandmother and guardian, Debbie Kinney, knew something more serious was going on.
Kinney shepherded the child to doctors and specialists, who worked to find out what was causing the focal seizures, why Angel had a heart murmur, and what spurred other troubling symptoms that include difficulty performing some tasks, a frequent lack of awareness of danger, and a tendency to get upset and anxious in public.
After countless medical appointments and procedures, Angel, who turns 7 today, was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease, which affects the ability of the body’s cells to function.
Kinney wants her granddaughter, who attends elementary school, to have as normal a life as possible. Angel’s doctors agree that she could benefit from a service dog, and family and friends of the child are trying to raise the $15,000 needed to make that happen.
“This dog would be tethered to her at all times,” Kinney, who has been Angel’s legal guardian for five years, said last week. “The dog would help with her behavior; it would be her constant companion and keep her safe.”
According to the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, mitochondrial diseases result from failures of the mitochondria, specialized compartments present in every cell of the body except red blood cells. Mitochondria are responsible for creating more than 90 percent of the energy needed by the body to sustain life and support growth, according to UMDF. Less and less energy is generated within the cell when mitochondria fail. Cell injury and cell death follow. If this process is repeated throughout the body, whole systems begin to fail, and the life of the affected person is severely compromised.
A number of syndromes are connected to mitochondrial disease, but doctors have not yet pinpointed which syndrome is affecting Angel. Specialists continue to study the child.
At this point, Angel has trouble performing some tasks and has a lack of awareness about danger, which Kinney said is a serious issue. Her focal seizures are not under control and not all of her teachers and caregivers can tell when she is having one. She suffers from muscle tremors and is “traumatized” when she has to undergo necessary medical procedures, according to Kinney.
During the focal seizures, Kinney said, the 7-year-old stares straight ahead, her gaze fixed. She does not lose consciousness, but is unaware of what is going on around her. Angel does not remember what happened after she comes out of the seizure and sometimes forgets things she learned during the day after a seizure occurs.
“We have got to get them under control,” said Kinney. “She learns things and then has a seizure and it is like she forgets it all and has to start over again.”
Kinney is looking to receive the service dog from 4 Paws For Ability Inc., an Ohio-based organization that provides service dogs across the globe to people with disabilities.
The dog would recognize when Angel’s seizures are taking place and provide emotional and physical support. The dog will offer comfort during medical procedures and also serve as a distraction while the tests are going on. The dog also will protect the 7-year-old from danger.
Right now, Kinney is filming and documenting her granddaughter’s behavior in different situations and her seizures so the organization can pair her with the right breed of dog trained to meet her needs.
Once the necessary $15,000 is raised, both Parsons and Kinney will travel to Ohio to undergo training.
Donation jars are out at multiple stores in the area, and benefit car washes and suppers are being planned. Donation forms also are at several stores in Presque Isle and Mars Hill and at Ace Tire and Service in Waterville.
Anyone interested in donating also can contact Kinney at firstname.lastname@example.org.