'My hero dog licks my face to wake me when I collapse'

Assistance dog sponsored by Stowe School transforms life of woman with multiple health problems

Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 7:58 am
Zoe with Stowe, the black labrador that has transformed her life

A medical detection dog sponsored by Stowe School has transformed the life of a woman with multiple health problems and enabled her to live alone for the first time.

'Stowe' completed his training in 2018 and was partnered with 32-year-old Zoe Woolford.

Since then Zoe has had no emergency hospital admissions and feels like she "can cope with anything".

Stowe as a puppy

She said: "Stowe has made a huge difference to me and my family. He has been trained to warn me of an upcoming episode so I can get myself into a safe position.

"He also gives me time to alert somebody if needed. He hasn't missed an episode and, because of this, the impact is far less severe.

"If I do fully pass out, he will lick me constantly to bring me round and he fetches a medical kit and water for me."

Zoe has been diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos joint hypermobility syndrome, fibromyalgia and postural tachycardia syndrome. She has frequent episodes of dizziness, blacking out and severe faints, often resulting in injuries, including dislocated joints, cuts and bruises. She became afraid to go out alone.

Stowe and another Medical Detection Dogs trainee visit Lyttelton House students at Stowe School

Students at Stowe first learned about the work of Great Horwood-based charity Medical Detection Dogs in 2015, when supporter and Swanbourne resident Betsy Duncan-Smith visited to give a talk about its work. Several members of staff have also been puppy socialisers for the charity.

Inspired by the talk, the whole school carried out fundraising events including mufti days, doughnut sales, charity bike rides, and fundraising stands at speech day, raising enough money during 2016 to pay for a puppy's training.

Born in October 2016, the labrador pup made his debut appearance at school at the opening of its refurbished science facility - becoming an instant hit with pupils and being named Stowe.

He has had a massive impact on Zoe's confidence.

She said: "Before having Stowe, I couldn't see how my future would ever change so that I would be able to live independently once more and get out and about to meet people on my own.

"But at the beginning of 2020, Stowe and I moved into our own home together, something that I thought was never likely to happen. Although I do require support at times for my multiple health conditions, we live on our own and can look forward to a great future together. I can go out with Stowe and I have made many new friendships on my walks as we are well known now by the other walkers in my new area.

"Having health conditions that are not always visible can make life very lonely, but Stowe has taken that loneliness away."

Stowe was even able to stay with Zoe in hospital during planned surgeries last year, meaning she didn't need to have a highly monitored bed. He alerted staff several times that she was about to have a medical episode, so they could take appropriate action.

Zoe, who lives in Hampshire, stays in touch with Stowe School and was invited to tea in May 2019 to support the students of Lyttelton house, who were fundraising for a new puppy, Billy - now just under two years old and in training to be a medical alert assistance dog like Stowe.

The school's Grafton house students have also sponsored a chocolate labrador, Bea, named in memory of their much-loved matron - Mrs Bosman, known as Mrs B.

Bea joined the MDD team in October 2019 and is part of the Covid-19 sniffing trial.

Speaking about the black labarador who has changed her life, Zoe told the Advertiser: "I never expected the amount of impact he's had. Being able to live on my own and go out on my own, the difference he has made. It wouldn't be possible if it wasn't for him, the confidence he's given me, and that security. I was barely going out beforehand.

"To me, he feels like an extra limb, like he's part of me. I would be lost without him, we're so connected. He's a hero really. He's a very special boy."

Medical Detection Dogs trains medical alert assistance dogs to support people with life-threatening health conditions. It also trains cancer detection dogs to use their amazing sense of smell - 10,000 times more accurate than humans' - to detect the scent of the disease in biological samples.