Mikayla Molien, 18, and her medical alert service dog, Argo, are trying to win an expenses-paid trip to the Angioedema Center at University of California, San Diego, through an Internet contest.
Molien was diagnosed two years ago with hereditary angioedema, a disorder that produces episodes of severe swelling that could be life threatening. To avoid that outcome, Molien is dependent on Argo, a 1½-year-old English Cream Goldendoodle — a cross between a poodle and a golden retriever.
“Argo is a certified medical alert dog and will alert anytime my C1 or C4 inhibitors drop too low,” Molien said. “Sometimes the proteins in my blood drop too low, and I swell in my face, abdomen, extremities and throat. When my throat swells, I am unable to breathe and unable to talk. Argo can alert before the throat attack happens, so I don’t have to go through it.”
Hereditary angioedema affects an estimated one in 50,000 people, according to Genetic Home Reference, a website run by the National Institutes of Health. According to the U.S. Hereditary Angioedema Association, the disorder results from a genetic deficiency of a blood protein known as C1 inhibitor.
Molien said attacks occur without warning — sometimes in the middle of the night, when she’s sleeping. She added that her most common attack is the swelling of her abdomen, which causes extreme pain.
Before the swelling starts, Argo uses his sense of smell to detect the scent created by a chemical change in Molien’s blood or saliva. If they’re at home, Argo will warn Molien by placing his paw on her, usually on a leg or arm, depending on her position. In public, he alerts her with his paw and also lies down.
To treat an attack, Molien receives IV infusions, which can take 30 to 45 minutes to complete.
“Argo is the first pure HAE-only dog that I know of in the area,” she said. “Argo is fully certified and carries the papers in his vest pocket.”
Argo spent about a year learning to be a medical alert service dog. His training included classes on obedience, public socialization, scent detection and retrieving medication. He came to live with Molien in January 2013. Argo is rewarded for his alerts with his favorite stuffed teddy bear, which was originally bought at Disneyland.
“I am hoping my story helps bring awareness to HAE and the importance of medical alert dogs,” Molien said. “If more people are able to have a medical service dog that can alert to an attack before it happens, then they don’t have to suffer through it.”
The online contest is open to United States residents 18 and older, and one winner will be selected from the entries. Voting ends Monday, and as of this Wednesday, Molien was in the top 10.
“I want to be able to take Argo to the center and tour it,” she said. “I want to introduce Argo to the expert researchers and bring awareness to HAE alert dogs. I also want to explain my case to them, so we can get better treatment and hopefully a cure.”
You can cast your vote for Molien at www.haeanswers.com by finding and clicking on the
picture of her and Argo. For more information on HAE, visit www.haea.org or call 866-798-5598.
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