Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Daryl Van Schouwen and Chris De Luca

A Dog For Alex

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Cubs fan Darren Udaykee always considered White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn just that--one of the guys on the other team.
Until he found out how much they had in common as parents of a child suffering from epilepsy.
``I can understand how having your son live with such a miserable condition can affect you at home and at work,'' the Tinley Park resident wrote in July after reading about Dunn's son, Brady, now 6, and his family's search to acquire and train a service dog for him. ``Constantly worrying about your son's safety, as a seizure can strike at any moment--in the bath tub, in the pool, on the stairs, on top of the playground equipment,'' he wrote, thinking of his own son, Alex, 9. ``It's hard not to, but I'm always fearing the worst. And I'm sure it's worse for Adam as he spends half the season on the road.''
Darren and Kim Udaykee had gone through extremes for their son in the last six years, from a dozen different medications to brain surgeries that failed to provide the hoped-for help to control his seizures.
``He has seizures every day,'' Kim Udaykee said of Alex. ``He has an adult aide with him at school. He can't even go into the shower alone.''
Doctors, hospitals and constant monitoring are the norm for Alex, his parents, brother Scott, 22, and sister Brooke, 8.
``He's going to be 10 next month and can't be by himself,'' Kim said.
And they knew, too, about the help a service dog can provide.
``We've been informed how long of a process it is to obtain a dog for our son due to the logistics, time and costs involved,'' Darren wrote. ``My wish is that...one day my son Alex and Brady can live their lives as normal as one can without medicine and surgery.''
That is when the Dunns' story took on a new chapter as the Udaykee's story.
The family's situation touched dog trainer Stacey Larsen, who had worked with the Dunns for months to train Astro, Brady's service dog.
She reached out to them, learning more about their plight and the severity of Alex's condition.
Though thousands of miles away, Larsen became a friend.
``She said `I envision a nice black lab sitting next to your son,' '' Kim said.
That vision is about to come true.
Larsen reached out to breeders she knew, who networked with breeders in Illinois. The search led to Ann Garmon of Anthem Labrador Retrievers in Harvard, IL, a longtime breeder whose labs have been accomplished in the show ring, as field dogs--and as service dogs.
``She told us about `Ernie', a black lab puppy she was saving as a show dog. She said he had the right temperament,'' Kim said.
``Before even meeting us, she said she was going to save him for us.''
Garmon helped the family find trainer Pam Barnett, who runs Pack Leader Academy in nearby Palos Heights.
Her interest in training service dogs is personal as well as professional, having founded Paws Assisting Wounded Warriors to train dogs to help soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
``Pam and I were very touched by [the Udaykee's] situation and we know how life-changing a service dog can be,'' Garmon said.
Then came a surprise from the community.
Kim's father wrote about the family's situation to Tinley Wish, a local organization that helps families in need.
Along with Alex's ongoing medical bills and trying to acquire a dog, Darren Udaykee had lost his job as an accountant for a time before this year.
The Udaykees were one of the nine families Tinley Wish selected to receive help.
The organization couldn't fund the purchase and training of a dog--costs that will run into many thousands--but they helped by paying the family's mortgage and car payments for a month.
And they delivered it all with the fanfare of fire trucks, squad cars and Santa Claus parading to the family's home on Dec. 15.
``Mayor Ed Zabrocki was here, too. They brought gifts for the kids--and lots of gift cards to Petsmart,'' Kim said.
Ernie got a present too--his village dog tag for the coming year.
``So many people have made this happen for us,'' Kim said. ``Alex is so excited. He said ``can I finally start doing things by myself?' ''
Ernie should arrive in early January.
``We're so grateful to Ann and Pam and Stacey,'' Kim said. ``She said `we're going to make this happen.' She was relentless.''
The Udaykees are grateful to the Dunns, too.
``None of this would have happened if they hadn't shared their story,'' Darren said. ``Please thank them for us.''
As it happens, the Dunns have followed the Udaykee's story through Larsen. ``And we're so happy for this family,'' Rachel Dunn said.
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This page contains a single entry by Toni Ginnetti published on December 24, 2012 2:23 PM.

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