Stephanie Oxley and Mobility Assistance Dog Trek
Author: Joy Miller
If a person saw Stephanie Oxley from Prior Lake, Minn. walking down the street, they would see a “regular” 20-year old woman with cute, short hair and glasses – nothing that might make one stop and wonder. Also, watching her water ski, one would see a typical, active, Minnesotan enjoying one of our famous 10,000 lakes. The perception of a normal, healthy, active adult would, however, be incorrect. This is a young woman with serious health issues, who is overcoming them with grace, determination, and the love and support of her family and a Can Do Canines Mobility Assist Dog.
Though diagnosed with hip dysplasia at 18 months old, it was 2012 before the underlying problem was diagnosed as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is a collection of heritable connective tissue disorders. Either directly or indirectly, EDS is known or thought to alter the biology of collagen in the body (the most abundant protein), which can lead to multi-systemic symptoms. (Ehlers-Danlos Society website: www.ehler-danlos.org) Stephanie’s EDS manifested in multiple joint dislocations and “super-stretchy” skin. Stephanie says simply, “Things fall apart.” For example, she can (and has) dislocated her wrists, elbows, and shoulders when attempting to open a heavy freezer door by herself. Enter two-year-old Mobility Assist Dog, Trek, a black Goldador (lab/golden retriever mix), who is helping Stephanie regain her confidence and independence (and the ability to get the freezer door open without getting hurt!).
“Having EDS feels like my body is made of silly putty, while others feel like Elmer’s glue.”
When Stephanie was first diagnosed with EDS, the doctor gave her a list of things she couldn’t do, including skydiving, scuba diving, bull riding and contact sports. When she looked at the list, she noticed that water skiing WASN’T on the list, so she has continued to participate in that sport. In fact, she hopes to compete in the National Disabled Water Ski Tournament next year. Stephanie’s focus throughout her life has been on what she can do, rather than what she can’t do. She is determined to not let health issues define her. People often ask Stephanie why she can ski when she has such difficulty even walking around a store for more than 10 minutes. Her response is simply, “I have very little endurance or stamina for walking around, and falling on water hurts a lot less than falling on land.”
“I’m a very goal-oriented person, and water skiing is a sport that always has something more advanced to try and more goals to set, so I continue pushing myself to get better.”
Stephanie began thinking about getting an assistance dog when she started to fall more and was forced to limit her activities, both at home and outside the house. She disliked being dependent on her family to help her do simple things. “Now I can use Trek to help me stand up or have him get my phone if needed. With Trek I have a lot more confidence and stamina to go out by myself.” She is looking forward to attending school in Winona next spring, and not having to rely on her roommate or friends as a safety net. Trek has already saved her from five or six falls, and her confidence with him is growing.
Stephanie seems to take everything EDS and life have thrown at her in stride. When asked about maintaining her positive attitude, she gives her parents a lot of the credit. “They taught me very early to not take anything too seriously. I try to use humor to get through the worst times. If you can laugh, nothing ends up being that bad…except dislocated ribs. You really don’t want to laugh with those.” Skiing helps keep her spirits up, and she also credits “Hogan’s Heroes” re-runs. “I remember countless hospital stays that were vastly improved by that show.” Now Trek helps her, too.
Stephanie is extremely grateful to Trek’s puppy raisers, fosters, and Can Do Canines donors, who made their partnership possible. “I could never afford to have him without this help. The independence I have with Trek is amazing – and you can’t put a price tag on that.”
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Great Start Home—Diana Adamson & Paul Oberhaus
Puppy Raiser—The Inmate Handlers at the Federal Correction Institution at Sandstone
Special Thanks—Kathryn McFadden