NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A former Metro Nashville police officer forced to give up her law enforcement career after her epilepsy diagnosis is asking for the public’s help in raising money to train her puppy to become a service dog to help her during her seizures.
Mary Williams told News 2 her life changed in January of 2018 while she was at work, interviewing a witness of a robbery in South Nashville.
Williams said the woman’s disco balls in her home triggered what she would later learn was a three-minute tonic-clonic seizure, formerly known as a grand mal seizure.
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“I was in disbelief that it happened at first,” Williams said. “Coworkers who were there, they told me, and I was like, ‘Absolutely no way. I’ve never had seizures before, that’s ridiculous.’ [I] definitely had one, and then had subsequent ones at the hospital.”
Williams was diagnosed with epilepsy and then developed a life-threatening condition called DRESS Syndrome from one of her medications, forcing her to give up her law enforcement career.
Several years later, Williams experiences multiple seizures a month, and she can sometimes get multiple a day without warning. They often occur while she is working at her current job as a special education teacher and at home alone.
“There’s so much anxiety associated with what happens if it goes back to the bigger seizures. What happens if it gets worse? There are so many what-ifs,” Williams said. “I’ve never really struggled with anxiety until epilepsy, and there’s just constant anxiety.”
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Since Williams lives alone, she often worries about getting injured during one of her seizures and not being able to call for help, which is part of the reason why she is raising money to train her border collie puppy named Al to become a service dog.
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, it can cost up to $40,000 to train a seizure response dog. While dogs cannot be taught to sense a seizure before it happens, they can be trained to respond to a seizure by lying next to their owner to prevent an injury during the incident, placing their body between their handler and the floor to break a fall at the beginning of a seizure, staying with their owner to provide support and comfort, and pressing a button to alert a designated person a seizure is occurring.
Williams said knowing she had a loyal service dog by her side 24/7 ready to respond to her seizures would give her peace of mind and allow her to live more independently.
“It’s not just a matter of loving dogs and wanting to have a dog with you. It’s a matter of wanting to have a dog that can react and help you in your time of need, whenever that time is,” Williams said. “Epilepsy is kind of a lonely condition. You don’t see it on the outside, you look normal, and it freaks people out. People don’t know what to do or how to react when you have a seizure, and there’s just so much comfort in having a companion that’s trained to react.”
Williams said training Al could take around two years.
To donate toward Al’s training, click here.