North Metro Fire raising money to give service dog to girl

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At a time in her life when many teenagers are seeking independence, 18-year-old Whitney Nelson can never be left alone.

Nelson, a Ralston Valley High School senior, suffers from a form of epilepsy that causes recurrent and spontaneous seizures that make it difficult for her to do many people take for granted, such as studying for an upcoming exam or attending classes.

“Her condition doesn’t really fit into a box,” her father, Paul Nelson, said. “She’s unique that’s for sure.”

Paul Nelson, a captain at the North Metro Fire Rescue District, said his family’s journey began when Whitney suffered her first at home in the sixth grade.

Since then, he said numerous doctors and specialists from the Children’s Hospital of Colorado and the Mayo Clinic have struggled to diagnose and control Whitney’s condition.

“There are times where she can easily have an airway compromise or something like that, so my wife and I have literally been together with Whitney since the sixth grade,” Paul Nelson said.

There is no known cure for her condition, but Paul Nelson said Whitney now takes several thousand milligrams of anti-epilepsy medications each day to help control her epileptic seizures and undergo bi-weekly intravenous immunoglobulin treatments to bolster her body’s limited capability to produce antibodies that staves off infections.

Despite these challenges, Paul Nelson said his daughter continued to live a normal life by attending classes at Ralston Valley High School, where his wife and Whitney’s mother Lisa Nelson taught physical education and coached the school’s varsity volleyball team for 13 years.

Whitney’s perseverance, he said, would be must evident on the volleyball court, where she would routinely have seizures about two times a week.

“There have been numerous times where I’d see her have a seizure on the court,” Paul Nelson said. “We’d call a time out, she would sit on the bench, shake it off and then go back in an play. That was her M.O. (modus operandi). That is how she got through high school athletics.”

Things, however, took an unexpected turn about two years ago, when Lisa Nelson was diagnosed with stage 3 cervical cancer. Paul Nelson said his wife underwent several surgeries and treatment option before dying at home on March 3.

Since then, Paul Nelson has been on temporary leave to take care of Whitney at home.

“Going through those things have just made the bond we have as a family tighter than heck,” Paul Nelson said. “It was a heart-wrenching loss to lose Lisa. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a mother-daughter or even father-daughter relationship that is tighter because of everything that we have gone through together.”

To help cover the costs of a service dog that could watch Whitney while she attends classes at Red Rocks Community College, North Metro Fire Rescue District spokeswoman Stacey Mulligan said she and her co-workers have been working with the Broomfield and Northglenn/Thornton Rotary Clubs to host a fundraiser called Whitney’s Way.

“Many of the guys on the line had heard about service dogs and what they could possibly do,” Mulligan said.

“As we kind of researched it even further, we realized that this is something that would be perfect for her to help gain that sense of independence.”

In all, Mulligan said about 836 of the 999 raffle tickets available for a May 15 drawing event have been sold so far. Prizes from the event at the Century Chevrolet lot on 6105 W. 120th Avenue ranges from cash winnings to a new 2013 Camaro 1 LT Coupe.

“It is overwhelming to think about what I have received personally from this organization and the community,” Paul Nelson said.

“I was allowed to be by my wife’s side and take care of her and now people on the back side are taking care of my kiddo — I mean, that’s a big deal. To see a community come together and do this for us has taught me that is what a community is all about.”

For more information about the fundraiser, visit: http://northmetrofire.org/ or contact the North Metro Fire Rescue District at: 303-452-9910.