Service Dog Helps Personalize Care for Chilton Patient|
At first glance, Judith Wright from Bloomingdale looks just like any other woman. However, she is not like everyone else, and her service dog is diligently at her side doing work that you cannot see. Wright suffers from Grand Mal Seizure Disorder and Connor is her seizure alert dog.
When Wright has a seizure she becomes unconscious, has convulsions and suffers muscle rigidity. Her service dog, constantly by her side, works to keep her safe 24 hours a day. “He helps to make me as whole as possible,” says Wright. “His job is to alert me and take care of me. Without him, I would not be mobile. I wouldn’t be safe in my house.
“I couldn’t shop or ride my horses. I wouldn’t be safe anywhere,” she explains. In fact this past summer, when Connor was attacked in Warwick, NY, by a dog later deemed “dangerous,” she was unable to leave her home for almost three weeks because of his injuries.
Wright is an avid horse rider, and 8-year-old Connor, an Irish Setter, has been her service dog for almost six years now. He is able to alert Wright up to three hours before she has a seizure. “He stands up on me and lowers me to the ground. He rolls me over and protects me, and protects my head,” Wright says confidently.
Sometimes he lies across her to prevent her from further injury during convulsions. “I have no idea what’s going on. I’m dependent on his alert and his care. All that needs to be done is a call to 911,” she states.
A service dog is trained for a specific disability. The American with Disabilities Act and state laws protect the rights of service dogs and their handlers. “Most people have no idea what a service dog is. Most businesses don’t know. Many police and health departments aren’t formally trained,” reports Wright. “So if people don’t know what it is, how can they behave appropriately or allow access? Many people don’t understand because I appear fine,” she says. “They think it is okay to ask me really intrusive questions and attempt to interfere with the dog while he is working.”
Wright’s first experience with Chilton Hospital was a long time ago. She was at the horse farm and Connor alerted her of an oncoming seizure. Connor went to work, protecting Wright during multiple grand mal seizures, the physical equivalent of her body having run several marathons in a row. She went into cardiac arrest, and the paramedic unit from Chilton promptly treated her and put her into the ambulance. But, no one was sure what to do with her service dog. A series of discussions followed with the farm staff and eventually, Connor was allowed to join them in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Wright received immediate care in the emergency room with her service dog by her side and later returned home with Connor and her husband, Philip Nostrand.
After a few days, Wright contacted Jacqueline P. McNally, director of Chilton’s Mobile Intensive Care Unit, and asked her to review the statute that addresses the requirement that service dogs must accompany their handlers. “Jackie was grateful for this information, but that’s how I live,” says Wright. “Okay, something happened. Let’s get the education. Let’s make it better for the person after me,” she says.
McNally later commented, “The paramedics were amazed that he knew exactly what was expected of him. To say he is an extraordinary dog is an understatement. Connor knew exactly what to do and when to do it. He remained at Judith's side
throughout her treatment in the Emergency Department. All the while turning heads in utter amazement at his commitment to his job and his compassion for Judith.”
According to Wright, “Chilton educated the staff, and made circumstances even better, so it’s so normal. There’s no more talk about taking the service dog. They just transport him. They work on me as my service dog moves in and out of position, as they run my IV lines, and do what they need to do to treat me,” she explains. Connor knows when to help and when to step aside without direction to allow healthcare personnel to do their jobs.
Unfortunately, Wright makes frequent visits to Chilton’s Emergency Department. She continues to go there confidently, as she claims that Chilton is the only place she’s ever been that respects her service dog’s role and simply allows the dog to do his work. She is grateful for the efficient care she gets from her physician Dr. J. Erinna Monck of North Jersey Neurologic Associates, a neurologist affiliated with Chilton Hospital.
Each time Wright goes to Chilton, her experience gets better and better. “I now use the breast center, and I get my bone density tests at Chilton. I donate blood there. I’m not a one-timer in the ER, and I continue to rely on them. I’m often in a position where I can’t advocate for myself,” she admits. “From the time I enter any part of the building, they don’t even say anything. They don’t even look at him. No one touches the service dog. No one distracts him and there is no attempt to deny access,” she says with relief.
By law, a service dog must always wear a harness in public. Writings on the harness explain that the dog is a service dog, a working dog. It warns: Do Not Pet. A service dog is trained to watch its handler and to not pay attention to anyone other than his handler.
A service dog is trained not to make eye contact with other people and to “be in position to do his job,” ready to take action when necessary.
Wright hopes to inform people to read the dog’s harness, follow the rules and never interfere in any service dog’s mission, which is to keep its handler safe and perform the tasks he has been trained to do.
She is encouraged by the actions of Chilton Hospital, which corrected a situation and continues to make things better for all people with service dogs.
“Knowledge is circular,” says Wright. “When you know better, you do better, and there is no reason to discriminate. I believe in the trickle-down theory and paying it forward. They have been educated. Now, you would never know, by Chilton’s employees actions, that there is a seizure alert dog by my side. That’s how it is supposed to be.”
“Chilton Hospital is incredible. It went from no knowledge to heightened knowledge and beyond what I could hope for. It is wonderful not to think about anything but my medical care. Am I lucky? You bet,” says Wright.
As for Connor, he was recently awarded a Certificate of Merit from the Animal Hall of Fame in Hillsborough, NJ, and his membership in The Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, a non-profit organization that supports therapy dogs, has been reactivated after his own healing.
To learn more about service dogs, visit the following links:
National Service Dog Resource Center
Service Animal Basics
Facts you should know about Service Dogs (pdf)
Chilton Hospital is a fully accredited, 260-bed, acute-care, community hospital. It is a four-time recipient of the HealthGrades Specialty Excellence Award in Stroke, and Five-Star Rated for Stroke Care, the highest possible, for six years in a row. It is also Five-Star Rated for Joint Replacement and Total Knee Replacement for 2012. Chilton’s many services include minimally invasive and robot-assisted surgery, a state-of-the-art Emergency Department, a Pain Management center, the Sleep Health Institute, the Comprehensive Wound Healing/Hyperbaric Center, the Chilton Cancer Center, the Mother Baby Center, an American Diabetes Association-recognized diabetes education program and a weight loss surgery program. Chilton has recently embarked on a $24 million modernization project, which includes the Cardiovascular Interventional Lab, the Breast Center and the Total Joint Center. The hospital is located at 97 West Parkway in Pompton Plains, NJ 07444. For more information about Chilton's facilities and services, or to find a doctor by name, specialty, or location, please visit www.chiltonhealth.org or call 1-888-CHILTON.