Originally published in The Weekly Packet, May 24, 2018
Brooklin boy receives service dog through community support
Elijah Allen and his service dog Noelle share a moment during the first few days of their relationship.
by Monique Labbe
At three and a half years old, Elijah Allen of Brooklin has tackled issues many adults in the later stages of life have never faced.
Allen, who has cerebral palsy, was only five weeks old when a major brain hemorrhage led to emergency neurosurgery in Bangor and a major change in lifestyle for his parents, Tania and Matt Allen.
“It totally rocked our family,” said Tania Allen, who had already given birth to four other children. “We didn’t really see it coming. Looking back on it, maybe we should have.”
In the first five weeks of his life, Allen said her son was white in complexion and was not eating the way he should have been, causing him to not gain any weight.
The circumstances surrounding his birth were already critical, as Allen was rushed into an emergency c-section. The pregnancy was doubly difficult, as Elijah was originally a twin. The second baby died in the second trimester of the pregnancy.
One Friday night, as Matt Allen was drying his son off from a bath, Elijah began to vomit. Not common for a 5-week-old, Tania Allen said she had a “gut feeling” that something was seriously wrong. The couple monitored their son throughout the night and brought him to the emergency room in Blue Hill the next morning. The physician’s assistant on staff immediately sent them to Bangor.
Dr. Michael Fromke, a new neurosurgeon on staff at the time, performed the procedure. Christian-based in his faith like the Allens, Fromke prayed over Elijah during the surgery preparations. After that, all the Allens could do was wait.
“At one point, another doctor came out and asked us if we would be willing to donate Elijah’s organs, because they didn’t think he would make it,” said Tania Allen.
Fast forward three and a half years, and Elijah is not only making it, but thriving. Though the hemorrhage has left him with only half a brain, half his eyesight and a left hand that functions as well as an 8-month-old infant’s, he is otherwise “completely normal.”
“We don’t treat him any differently,” said his mother. “If he’s naughty, we scold him. If we think he can do something if he tries hard enough, we push him to try.”
The words “I can’t” are not words uttered in the Allen’s household; however, they are aware that there are certain things that their son is unable to do on his own.
Enter Noelle, a 4-month-old English golden retriever from a breeder in Utah.
“We thought having a service dog would be good for Elijah, because while he is very functioning in our house, new places can be very difficult for him,” said Allen.
Elijah’s cerebral palsy causes him to have high anxiety, and he was diagnosed with a severe sensory disability earlier this year. This past winter was difficult, said his mother, because the snow and lack of contrast in color caused the sensors in his brain to overload.
Noelle has been with the family since February, and has been busy training with Whitney Thurston at Salty Dog Obedience and Adventure in Blue Hill. That training is only a portion of the training she will have to go through over the next year, as she will fly back and forth to a trainer in Philadelphia two or three times to receive specific training geared toward service dogs.
“They’ll be able to train her to interrupt bad repetitive behaviors, and to be able to corral him when he starts to wander away,” said Allen. “I don’t know how they do that, but it’s pretty amazing.”
Getting Noelle to Brooklin and paying for her training, which will include plane rides to Philadelphia, has proved costly. As such, the Allen family has been busy fundraising through a variety of avenues. Allen has sold donuts and soaps, participated in the Brooklin School Parent, Teacher and Friend’s silent auction and held a benefit dinner. The family has also received private donations from members of the community. Their insurance company, Samaritan Ministries, did not cover any of the costs associated with the service dog; however, in following the family’s journey on Facebook, the company decided to “pass around the hat,” said Allen, and donated over $1,000.
“That has meant a lot to us to have the support of people that think we’re doing the right thing and support the way we raise him,” said Allen.
As for Elijah and Noelle?
“She is so tolerant of him,” said Allen. “He can be a little rough with her, he likes to grab, but she just takes it. It’s like she knows he’s hers and she’s his. His twin was supposed to be a sister, and I truly feel like Noelle has been sent down from her.”
Those who wish to follow Elijah’s journey can visit Prayers For Elijah Lazarus on Facebook.