The Person of the Month for September, 2017 is Monica Howell. The EPIC Foundation proudly gives honor and recognition to Monica Howell! Monica is a fellow warrior and has turned meaning out of her journey by giving back to the community in such an amazing way! Her advocacy in the Cushing’s, Addison’s, and Chronic illness communities changes lives, as she increases awareness of service dogs and their amazing abilities.
Monica Howell says that she became an advocate as soon as she started training with her service dog, Dubly, in 2016. Monica is a Cushing’s survivor who now has Addison’s Disease as a result of having her adrenal glands removed to treat Cushing’s. Monica’s service dog, Dubly, can literally save her life or help prevent life threatening crises.
Monica has done some public speaking about having Adrenal Insufficiency/ Addison’s and about how, along with Dubly’s trainers, she trained him to medical alert. More recently, she also started a group on Facebook with her friend for Cushing’s patients to learn about service dogs. Additionally, Monica also has a public page on social media where she posts about Dubly and his training to help others learn about medical alert dogs.
Monica feels that Dubly’s trainers are “amazing” and have really motivated her to learn more and to teach more to others. Specifically, Monica says that Dubly’s service dog trainer, “Angela’s knowledge of dogs is endless and her strength of character is inspiring. I have learned so much from her and from her husband Mark, who trained dogs with the US Air Force for decades!”
Monica is extremely invested in serving the Cushing’s community and increasing awareness of how service dogs can help us. Monica says that when she was sick with Cushing’s, she had a lot of trouble finding help. Her passion to help others comes from the fact that she wants others to have an easier time getting the help they need than she did. Monica, herself, waited years to get a service dog because she didn’t realize how much having a medical alert dog would help her.
Monica also had misconceptions about service dogs previously. She thought one needed lots of special qualifications and had to go through a special program to get a service dog, which is a myth. In Monica’s own words, “Training a dog to alert to adrenal insufficiency is not a big mystery — it’s the same process as training a dog to alert to any other medical condition. It starts with the bond you have with your dog then you do training to firm up the dog’s skills”. Monica aims to take the mystery out of having a service dog for people who are interested in having one and getting the help they need.
Monica’s story of her journey through her chronic illness and obtaining her service dog, Dubly, is inspiring. Everyone should know their story:
In 1999, Monica gained 100 pounds in 4 months. None of her doctors had a valid explanation for why this was happening. They all assumed that it was because of something that Monica was doing, projected blame onto her, assumed it was her fault, and told her to “eat less and exercise more”. Over the next 7 years, she grew sicker and sicker, developing seemingly random and weird symptoms: thyroid problems, muscle weakness, debilitating fatigue, depression, neurological problems, and many more symptoms. In 2005, Monica convinced a neurologist to order an MRI. There she found her answer! The MRI revealed a pituitary tumor. In 2006, Monica went to see a Cushing’s specialist. After extensive testing in 2006, Monica was finally diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease. Cushing’s Disease is caused by excessively high Cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone and helps the body cope with physical or emotional trauma or stress. However, if it is too high, it causes the person to be very sick. By the time Monica was finally diagnosed, she was very weak and dependent on a wheelchair most of the time. Monica had brain surgery in November of 2006 where her tumor was removed. However, unfortunately, the surgery was unsuccessful and her Cortisol levels never went down. One month later, Monica, after advisement of her medical team, had both of her adrenal glands removed to save her life from Cushing’s Disease. This, however, left Monica with Addison’s Disease or a life of Adrenal Insufficiency. Adrenal Insufficiency is when the body does not produce adequate levels of Cortisol, thus making the patient steroid dependent to sustain life.
Addison’s Disease/Adrenal Insufficiency is also life threatening and leaves the patient susceptible to having adrenal crises, where the body essentially goes into shock. This can lead to death. Monica needed a way to respond more quickly to Cortisol lows and avoid hospitalizations and a potential tragedy. This is why her story includes her service dog, Dubly! Dubly is only a year old and He is a border collie. “Border collies are high energy, incredibly intelligent, and challenging at times. However, Monica says that she “absolutely loves them!” She admits that Border Collies are not a traditional choice for a service dog. However, she has only had this breed and could not imagine not having a border collie as her service dog.
Monica got Dubly last year when he was 8 weeks old and began preliminary training with him right away. Dubly began alerting Monica to Adrenal Insufficiency episodes on his own when he was just 15 weeks old. They were accepted into his training program when he was just 4 months old.
Monica has an amazing story about Dubly: When he was 4 months old, he decided on his own to go get help one night when Monica didn’t respond to an alert. Dubly broke down a baby gate, ran into the other room and woke her husband up! This breed of dog has amazing decision making abilities! This has saved Monica’s life on many occasions!
Today, Dubly alerts Monica to low Cortisol, low sodium, tachycardia, and blood pressure changes. He still gets help when she needs it. Amazingly, Dubly also alerts random strangers to their high blood pressure! Dubly also does other tasks for Monica including fetching medications for her and he also helps her with her anxiety. Monica believes that at one year old; Dubly is still growing and developing and anticipates that he will be even more amazing when he is a full grown adult! Dubly is very driven to work and needs a lot of activity so they also do sheep herding and agility for fun.
The people in Monica’s life who are epic with her in increasing awareness include Dubly’s service dog trainers, husband and wife team Angela and Mark, The CEO and founder of Dubly’s training program, Laurie, and her amazing husband, Kevin. Monica also cofounded a support group on Facebook to educate other fellow warriors about service dogs with her friend, an advocate in the Cushing’s community, Melissa. Monica acknowledges that they all contribute to her mission and they are epic together!
Finally, what Monica wants you to know is that “you don’t have to pay tens of thousands of dollars or wait on a list for years to have a service dog. If you need and want one, there is a way for you to have one”. There are lower cost programs that can help you. There are also private trainers that can help. Monica wants the world to know that having a service “can be life changing!”
Having a service dog has been life changing for Monica! Since Dubly began alerting her just one year ago she has had 0 ER visits. This is so significant, as Monica was in the ER every 1-2 months before having Dubly with adrenal crises, dehydration, and electrolyte issues. Monica believes that other lives can change too with the help of a good dog. She says that service dogs truly are super heroes!
The EPIC Foundation proudly recognizes Monica because she took her own personal experiences and shared them with the world to create opportunities for others! She developed a mission and vision to change lives and give this amazing gift of knowledge to other people with similar journeys!
Monica, we thank you! Together, We are EPIC!