Life at age twelve is full of changes; leaving childhood behind and becoming a teenager is a real turning point in a young girl’s life. Stephanie Fortman encountered more challenges at that age than anyone would expect.
She recounts, “I lost my hearing from meningitis. It was a scary time in my life as I went from being normal and hearing to profoundly deaf in a matter of days. Shortly after I lost my hearing, I received a cochlear implant. The implant is truly a little miracle, and with it I hear quite well. However I do have trouble with environmental sounds, and often can’t tell what a sound is or where it’s coming from. When I’m not wearing my cochlear implant, I am completely deaf.”
Stephanie fully realized just how vulnerable she was in 2007 when she went to study abroad for college.
“I lived alone in a single-room dorm. The school fitted the room with a special flashing fire alarm and even attached it to a vibrating disc under the mattress to alert me if the alarm went off. One night at dinner with friends, the conversation turned to the fire alarm that apparently went off every night at 2 a.m. I asked them … ‘what alarm?’”
“It turned out that the flashing light was not enough to wake me. The disc under the mattress slid around and was like sleeping on a huge rock so I rarely used it. They were false alarms, but I realized I would have been in great danger had there been a real emergency.”
Years later and back in Minnesota, her parents told Stephanie about Hearing Assist Dogs after learning about them as members of the Champlin Lions. She was very excited about the prospect of having a dog alert her to sounds she’d otherwise miss.
In her application to Can Do Canines Stephanie explained, “I often have a difficult time recognizing household sounds such as a door knock, microwave timer, and phone chime on my cell phone. I can manage if the house is perfectly quiet, but if there is conflicting noise, I am likely to miss it.”
When Stephanie was matched with Fred, a two-year-old Standard Poodle, she had to reassure fiancé AJ, that he wasn’t a ‘frou-frou’ Poodle. This became apparent when AJ let Fred outside to play and the big, fluffy dog immediately started chasing squirrels and bunnies around the yard.
At her workplace, she had to instruct co-workers not to pet him without asking her first, so that he would keep his concentration on her. The business is a house-like setting and she sits closest to the door. Fred alerts her to people knocking on the door, delivery men and anyone calling her name.
About the match, Stephanie says, “I feel more secure. Fred makes sure he gets my attention when a noise happens. He has completely changed how I feel about living in my own home.”
Stephanie would like to thank the individual donors and service clubs like the Lions who contribute funds to help pay for the training. “A huge thank you! Being a young couple with a new home, I never could have afforded to pay for an assistance dog. Fred is a blessing in my life. I can’t imagine life without him.”