XENIA, Ohio – It was love at first sight as Founder, Executive Director and Papillon-lover, Karen Shirk made her way to then 12-year-old Joel Wilcox with his new furry, four-legged best friend Jubilee, better known as JuJu Bean, his new seizure-alert dog, on the first day of the December’s Holiday Hounds class.
The tiny dog’s tail wagged. She knew instantly that Joel’s arms would be her fur-ever home. And so did his mom Amy Wilcox.
“When he leaned down and kissed her little nose, I knew.”
And what happened next, truly sealed the deal for this mother of three.
After their joyous introduction, Amy, Joel and JuJu Bean were standing in the middle of the training room floor talking to Karen. Keeping an eye on Joel out of the corner of her eye, Amy said that she saw him stumble. She moved swiftly toward him and caught him from falling. JuJu Bean got right in there, she said, licking his face.
In that moment, she said it was just “awesome, just awesome. It’s what we came for.”
Over the next 11 days while at 4 Paws for Ability, training with JuJu Bean, she said that the tiny little dog
with a powerful nose has alerted her nearly 22 hours ahead of time of a oncoming seizure, 3-4 times. That brought tears to her eyes.
“I know how much that means to us. It give us control over something that is out of control,” she said.
The Wilcox family, of Blacklick, Ohio, is currently fostering JuJu Bean’s uncle Ghost, another Papillon.
They started looking into obtaining a service dog for Joel, who has had seizures from epilepsy since he was 7 years old, when they were at a Cincinnati hospital and met Hannah and Blitzen. Blitzen, a 4 Paws for Ability service dog was on Hannah’s bed, never leaving her side while she was in the hospital, said Amy.
Within 15 minutes, she said she knew everything that she needed to know about 4 Paws for Ability and knew this was something she wanted to do for her son. Within a month and a half, the Wilcox family raised $13,000.
Joel, who used to play football and basketball, started having what Amy calls “zone-out” spells, staring off into space. The first time he zoned out, Amy said she thought he was just ignoring her. He walked inside the house with mud on his shoes after she had just cleaned the kitchen floor and she said something to him and he just stared straight ahead.
“What are you doing?” she asked him. But he stared off, smiling and walked in circles.
Those staring spells started turning into more intense seizures. He started having tonic-ionic compulsing-type seizures nearly every half hour—between 25-40 every day. They spent numerous days and nights in the hospital and tried about 20 different medications. Their last stint was in August when he was in a Memphis, Tenn., hospital for eight days.
His mom said that seizure medications turned into panic attacks at school from the anxiety that another seizure may occur. His anxiety came home with him as well.
On more times than one, he ran out of his room at night terrified because the medicine that he was on made him feel like someone was after him, his mom recalled.
At one point, he had a seizure on the stairs in a hotel. Luckily Amy was there to catch him. As a result, he has been homeschooled since the 6th grade and wears a helmet to play outside.
“It’s just that one fall… that’s all it would take,” she said fearing what could happen to her son if she hadn’t been there to catch him during his seizure.
“I want him to be independent, to be 13 again,” said Amy, who said that Joel and his 14-year-old brother Alex, who used to be close, have drifted apart because of his seizures.
The medications “tore them apart,” she remembered. When they were little, the two brothers would do everything together, go everywhere together while holding hands. They are just 19 months apart and were “best buds.” But when one of them drools for 14 hours a day on certain medications, it just drove a wedge between them, she said.
“I just want him to be ‘Joel.’”
For the last six weeks, he’s been on new medication that seems to have improved his paranoia and seizures. And with the addition of little JuJu Bean, Amy said that she hopes even more improvement will be on the horizon.
“[She] will give us peace of mind,” said Amy, especially at night while he is sleeping.
And she hopes that finally, it will bring her family closer again, including her youngest, Ava, 11, who has received less attention from her parents due to Joel’s medical condition.
Amy said that she wants to plan things they can all do together outdoors, traveling, camping—things that up until now she hasn’t felt comfortable even thinking about.
“If we can all relax again, maybe it will build the relationships back up.”
JuJu Bean will go to school w
ith Joel once he returns to mainstream school. And since stress is a big trigger for his seizures, Amy said that she hopes that having JuJu Bean by his side will calm him and help him make friends again, give him the confidence that he needs.
“[It will] open a lot of doors for him.”
Doors like playing the sports he loves again, as well as allowing Amy the security “let go” a little bit more.
Joel became a teenager while at 4 Paws and that, his mom said, was the best birthday present ever.
“4 Paws more than met my expectations. It’s just incredible.”
Photos and article by Jessica Noll-Korczyk
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