Meet the Weatherall Family
Little Emily Weatherall was just a few weeks old when she was suddenly rushed to hospital. Her parents, (Sgt) Tim and Cheryl then received the devastating news that her life hung in the balance.
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Emily’s heart had been working at double the normal rate at over 300 bpm and her organs were failing. "The hospital staff couldn’t find her heart rate because it was so high the machines weren’t reading it,” recalls Cheryl. “They brought a cardiologist in and he said Emily’s heart was only working at five per cent capacity and the next half-hour would determine which way she would go. It was all such a shock. There was no build up; we were just suddenly in the middle of it and we had to survive it."
Emily was ultimately diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a condition affecting the electrical current in the heart. Doctors suggested the family should get an assistance dog who would be able to give them early warning if Emily was experiencing difficulties . However, when they looked into it, they were told that funded dogs are not supplied to children under five, as there is no guarantee the child will survive. Undeterred, they decided to get a dog and fund its training themselves.
Cheryl remembers: "We settled Emily down in the car seat and were having a look at the puppies. The owner had put Rocky down nearby - he wasn't supposed to be for sale. Emily started to cry and none of the puppies reacted but Rocky jumped down and went and sat by her. It was like something out of a movie! We knew he was the dog for us. He had a little white patch on his chest and as he has got older it has become the shape of a heart. I think it was meant to be."
Finding a puppy was the easy part; funding the expensive training Rocky would need was a more daunting prospect. "One of the lowest points for me was when Emily had to go back into hospital and I just broke down," recalls Cheryl. "Tim is away a lot on duty and I was constantly panicking that I would miss something. I felt under so much pressure. We had been trying to save and save to reach the £14,000 target I was told the cost for an assistance dog would be. It never occurred to me to ask SSAFA. It was one of my friends who suggested it and then when I met Kendra from SSAFA she said this is exactly the sort of thing we want to help with.
After hearing the Weatherall's story, the SSAFA Service Committee at Thorney Island (where Tim is based with JtGBAD Workshop Reme) was able to help with a contribution of £1,300. "I had until the end of that week to find the first lot of money for Rocky’s training. When SSAFA gave us the money I burst into tears," smiles Cheryl. "It wasn't just the funding that helped - SSAFA had a huge part to play in getting the ball rolling. After that, the guys on the base organised a mass cyclethon in Tesco and people were so willing to help. It was overwhelming.”
The Weatheralls can now afford to get Rocky trained to alert them and big brother Daniel to any changes in her heart rate; as her heart rate goes up or down, her blood becomes thicker or thinner, which changes the scent. "Rocky has already been able to give me a heads up once or twice, which is amazing," says Cheryl.
It's not only Emily who is benefiting from Rocky's new skills; this wonder-pup is also alerting the family if he thinks there is something wrong with other people. So far, he has been right on five separate occasions, including sounding the alert for a diabetic in trouble and a friend who was unknowingly suffering with internal bleeding.
There is a chance Emily’s condition will improve as she grows but in the meantime Rocky’s presence is helping to give the family some peace of mind. Cheryl says: "Despite everything, she is such a happy, outgoing little girl and it still amazes me that she can go from that to literally fighting for her life in the space of two hours. When she gets a cold it’s all hands on deck as her immune system is weaker but it is getting better. Those times are hard, particularly if Tim is away, as it’s hard not to be on edge; that’s why Rocky has been so amazing. He is still training and has lots more to learn but already he has picked so much up and been there when we have needed him. He is completely part of the family.”