One community is rallying together in hopes of bringing a little girl a potentially life-saving service dog.
Emalyne Wolfe was diagnosed with Dravet syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy, 29 days before her first birthday. Emalyne’s seizures occur every three to five days, and her form of epilepsy causes prolonged seizures that mean hospital visits and constant supervision.
The entire community of Franklin, Ohio, where Emalyne, nicknamed Emma, lives and attends elementary school, has come together to raise money for a service dog for the 9-year-old.
Emma’s school, Pennyroyal Elementary School in Franklin, is planning their third fundraiser this year — a “turkey trot” race the week of Thanksgiving, and its proceeds will benefit Emma. Some of Emma’s classmates have made bracelets to sell in the school cafeteria.
“The girls have financed these bracelets themselves,” said Cheryl Miller, a fifth grade teacher at Pennyroyal who has sponsored the fifth graders' bracelet project to help Emma.
“They make them out of these little rubber bands, and eat lunch at a table in the cafeteria so they can sell them, and put up all of these posters around the school about the bracelets. It’s really precious,” said Miller.
Every little bit helps. Earlier in the year, the school waged a “penny war” fundraiser in which classes pooled together as many pennies as possible in a school-wide contest. The classroom with the most pennies received a small award, said Gretchen Foster, Emma’s resource teacher at Pennyroyal.
"Emma is very happy girl, and she giggles a lot. All the kids, when they go down the hall, say ‘Hi Emma!’ and she’s just a very happy, fun, pleasant girl,” Foster said.
“The school has been amazing,” said Michele Wolfe, Emma's mother.
Emma, the third of four sisters in her family, is a happy child who loves playing with bubbles and beads, her mother said. Her life-threatening seizures don't seem to dim her bright attitude.
While both organizations are raising money for Emma’s dog, which costs about $14,000, Emma’s family and her elementary school are also raising money to bring Emma her pup.
The benefits of having a service dog for a child with epilepsy are enormous, said Lori Halley, Development Director at the Epilepsy Foundation of Western Ohio.
“This dog can alert mom and dad,” said Halley, “potentially before the seizures even begin. When Emma’s seizures start, they don’t stop.”
Trained dogs sense when a child is about to have an epileptic attack, said Halley, through an “aura” and pheromones the dogs recognize. This triggers trained dogs’ powerful sense of smell, and can alert parents by barking, whimpering and whining, or even her licking parents’ hands.
Halley has worked closely with the Wolfe family, raising awareness and funds for Emma’s future dog since August of last year.
“They have become like our family. Emma is the happiest little girl. They have three other girls, and you can’t help but become close with the family,” said Halley.
The Epilepsy Foundation has had a tough time getting large donations in recent years, so smaller community-based fundraisers and sponsors have played a huge role in Emma’s efforts. Emma has about $7,500 left to go, and the foundation is looking into raising money through a bowling and pizza fundraiser in January, along with community jewelry and Tupperware parties.
Though the fundraising process has been difficult and slow, said Wolfe, she thinks the efforts will be worth it once her dog arrives.
“If she is out of our sight, and if that dog is with her and that dog alerts us, we can get to her a lot faster,” said Wolfe. “The dog can potentially save her life.”
You can make a donation online via the Epilepsy Foundation of Western Ohio’s Flame of Hope website to help Emma and other kids just like her.