Mycayla

Mycayla Mitchell is shown with her father, Chuck, left, and mother Shannon, right, on Monday in their home in Owensboro. Mycayla has had seizures all her life, and the family is raising money for a seizure dog.

Depending on stress levels and other circumstances, Mycayla Mitchell usually has one or two seizures a day.

It’s something the 20-year-old Owensboro woman has lived with nearly all her life. As a child, she was diagnosed with polymicrogyria, a condition that creates excessive folding in the brain and an abnormally thick cortex.

Mitchell started having seizures at 3 months old.

They aren’t the grand mal type known for causing a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions.

Instead, they are absence seizures, formerly known as petit mal seizures. She stares and drifts off into a world all her own, which can prove dangerous. Recently, she slipped into a seizure and fell off the side porch of her home.

“I came out of it and said, ‘Why am I in gravel, and why am I wet?’ ” Mitchell said.

When she was a child, she had clusters of six to seven seizures a day. They dropped off a bit after doctors installed a vagal nerve stimulator when she was about 10 years old.

“When I first got it, I didn’t have any (seizures) for a year,” she said.

Unfortunately, they returned when puberty hit.

Because of her seizures, Mitchell will never drive and experience the type of independence most adults take for granted.

But help is on the way.

Mitchell’s parents, Chuck and Shannon Mitchell, have purchased a seizure-alert dog. Bentley, an 18-week-old goldendoodle, is in training in Stuart, Florida.

The Mitchell family expects to pick him up late this year or early next year.

“It’s a very long process,” Chuck Mitchell said.

And an expensive one.

Bentley cost $20,000 — more than the Mitchells imagined.

Although that sounds like a huge amount, it is the low end for seizure-alert dogs.

“They can be anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000,” Shannon Mitchell said.

At some point, the family will mail Bentley’s trainers a shirt Mycayla Mitchell sleeps in at night so the dog can learn her normal scent.

Then, during a seizure, the Mitchells will swab her mouth and mail those samples as well. During a seizure, chemical reactions in the body cause a change in body odor, including saliva.

“He will smell the chemical change in her body so he can alert her or anyone around her,” Shannon Mitchell said.

Thanks to their keen sense of smell, assistance dogs can alert their owners up to 45 minutes before a seizure

takes place.

Mycayla Mitchell works part time at Firehouse Subs. Her mom works as a bookkeeper at Owensboro Middle School, and her dad is self employed. He owns Mitchell Wood Worx, a company that makes cabinets, molding and trim for contractors.

Paying $20,000 for a service dog is a financial stretch for them. Besides the dog’s cost, the family must pay for two trips to Stuart.

During the summer, Mycayla Mitchell must travel to Florida for a meet-’n’-greet with Bentley. Then, after he is trained, the family must return to Florida for a two-week training session before accepting ownership.

The family has hosted a couple of fundraisers — a silent auction at Legends Sports Bar & Grill and a Facebook fundraiser — to help with the $6,500 initial deposit they paid for Bentley. They have raised nearly half of what they need for the dog’s cost alone, not counting out-of-pocket expenses for two trips to Florida.

So they have a ways to go.

Later, friends and family plan to smoke bologna, Boston butts and chicken for a sale, and they are planning another silent auction at Salsarita’s Fresh Mexican Grill.

Also, the Mitchells have started a GoFundMe page titled Mycayla’s Service Dog/Training. So far, it has raised $185.

Until Bentley arrives, Mycayla Mitchell is making the best of the wait by cuddling with a Build-A-Bear Workshop gift an aunt gave her for Christmas. The stuffed toy is a goldendoodle wearing a red service vest.

“I’m excited,” Mycayla Mitchell said of getting Bentley. “I’m getting impatient. That’s the hardest part.”

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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