On July 12 at 11:04 p.m., 7-year-old Jeremiah Williams had another seizure.
This grand mal seizure, like all the others before it, caused Jeremiah to lose consciousness and experience violent muscle contractions. It lasted six minutes.
But this one was better than its predecessors. This time, Jeremiah had his new service dog, Freddie.
“Once his seizure started and we got him to the living room, Fred did his part and laid behind him,” Jeremiah’s mother Cylinda Williams said. “Then he does what they call deep pressure therapy. And Freddie literally uses his head, his upper body or his legs and he actually pushes down on Jeremiah. They believe that helps somebody come out of a seizure. It’s mind-blowing.”
Freddie then rode with Jeremiah in the ambulance to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. When they arrived, he continued working.
“We got out of that ambulance and Freddie was right by that gurney all the way into the ER,” Cylinda said. “When he got in the ER, he got in the bed with Jeremiah and just instantly got on top of him and started doing the deep pressure. I physically saw Jeremiah relax. I’ve never seen that before.”
In some ways, that night marked the culmination of two years of fundraising to get Jeremiah a service dog to help with his seizures.
When he was 2, Jeremiah was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a congenital disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture.
Then, in December 2015, Jeremiah had a seizure while napping at Lighthouse Learning Center in Waterloo. The next day he was diagnosed with epilepsy, a disorder in which nerve cell activity in the brain is disturbed, causing seizures.
To make things worse, Jeremiah was later diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, a chronic condition affecting attention span, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
After he was diagnosed with epilepsy, which doctors said there was a 1 percent chance of happening, Cylinda said she felt a mix of emotions.
“It was a huge shock,” Cylinda said. “I just felt lost. It was a very big feeling of ‘what do I do?’ As a mom you want to fix everything and there is no fixing it. There was a sense of grief also because you lose a sense of normalcy.”
Although she could not fix her son’s medical problems, Cylinda started a Facebook page called Jeremiah’s Journey in March 2016. This allowed her to inform people about her son’s medical woes and begin a campaign to raise money for a service dog for Jeremiah.
Since the page was created, the Williams family has benefited from three major fundraising events. The family has also received help from Lighthouse Learning, which sold T-shirts to help raise funds.
Throughout this process, the family has received donations nationwide, though most have come from Monroe County.
They have also had help from several organizations they wished to thank: House of Neighborly Service, St. Paul United Church of Christ in Waterloo, Waterloo Optimist Club, Red Bud Elementary School, Lighthouse Learning Center, Shelby’s Auto Repair, Jack Schmidt Ford, Hustler Turf Equipment, Robert Matthews Foundation, OT Solutions, Karban Knotty Pines and Darding Chiropractic.
“I honestly couldn’t do this without our friends, our family and our community,” Cylinda said.
The efforts of all those people paid off on June 21, when Freddie came home for the first time.
He came home after a four-day graduation program through SIT Service Dogs. The graduation involved testing Cylinda’s knowledge and ability with Freddie.
The entire cost of Freddie, including his graduation, was more than $13,000.
In addition to deep pressure therapy, Freddie is trained to alert someone if Jeremiah has a seizure alone and assist him with mobility.
Now that Freddie is home, Cylinda said the family is still learning.
“It takes a while to adjust,” she said. “Freddie’s been going through an adjustment period with us, too. He’d never been home with us until we came home the Thursday after Father’s Day. We’re strangers. It’s been very much an adjustment for all of us.”
One concern Cylinda had involved Jeremiah’s fear of dogs, but that quickly dissipated with Freddie.
“Jeremiah has been very skittish around dogs all his life,” she said. “The director at SIT told me it would be different when Jeremiah got his dog. And it was just like that with Jeremiah and Freddie. They just clicked.”
One issue Cylinda did not foresee, though, has been other people. She said the general public often does not understand that a service dog is working and should not be treated like a normal pet.
“You’re not supposed to talk to a service dog,” she explained. “You’re not supposed to pet him. You’re distracting him.
“I want people to understand I’m not being rude when I don’t let them pet Freddie. I want them to understand this is important. It’s not just that I want to take my puppy out into public with me.”
Despite these bumps in the road and the difficulty in raising money, Cylinda said it has paid dividends.
“I’m not going to lie. It’s been rough,” she said. “But to see him in action made it all worth it.”