(NEW YORK) — A woman whose early onset Parkinson’s disease diagnosis flipped her entire life upside down was surprised Monday with a special furry friend to lend her a helping paw.
Six years ago, Tennille Strode was a practicing nurse when she first noticed a twitch in her finger. That twitch became a hand tremor, and eventually the entire right side of her body was affected.
“I was going to lose my career,” Strode, 40, told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “That was the only thing I could think of … I worked so hard to get there and now I can’t get there.”
Strode shifted roles from nurse to lactation consultant as everyday tasks became nearly impossible due to the condition.
“If [my medication] is not working then it’s like I can’t really do dishes, I can’t really do anything,” Strode told GMA. “If I don’t take my medication I can’t even get dressed. I can’t even wash my hair by myself, I can barely pull up my pants … my mind says I can, but my body says no you can’t.”
Now, thanks to an increased awareness and understanding of Parkinson’s disease, new therapies are being studied, Dr. Fiona Gupta, neurologist and director of Movement Disorder Outreach for Mount Sinai Hospital, explained.
One method that just might help Strode in everyday life: a service dog.
“Service dogs can help with helping the patient with balance, getting up from a chair … getting the medicine or a water bottle, turning a light off or shutting a door,” Gupta explained to GMA. “Service dogs promote so much transformation with Parkinson’s disease. I wish all my patients could have access to one.”
The woman who gave her life to helping others is getting something in return. On Monday, Strode was surprised live on GMA with her very own service dog.
The puppy goldendoodle, dubbed in her litter as “Light Fury,” was bred by Nevada-based 4E Kennels and raised to become a service dog.
“[Dogs] will always be there and heal our hearts in ways that people cannot do, that food cannot do,” 4E Kennels founder Jeanette Forrey told GMA. “The innate ability to read our emotions, to want to serve and to help us. The loyalty, the non-judgment …Your dog will never leave you.”
Strode is not only gifted the puppy, but also the subsequent training that will enable the two to truly work and grow together.
Brad Norton, owner and CEO of Norton Dog Training in Las Vegas, will work with Strode and her goldendoodle for four to six months, or however long is needed, to make sure Strode’s dog can cater to her needs.
“Every dog needs a task and a person to task for … They can’t be taught to do everything but they can do a lot of things,” Norton said.
As puppy training can be costly and Norton Dog Training is on average working with 30 to 40 dogs at a time, the owner’s love for the dogs and the community is clear as he trains five Helping Hearts dogs a year on his dime, with Strode’s new puppy being one of them.
“I enjoy watching their eyes glow as the dog helps them do these things and make their lives a little bit easier,” Norton said. “The payment comes from the smile at the end.”
The service puppy will join Strode’s life in Nevada to help lessen the impact of Parkinson’s on her daily life — and maybe give some furry cuddles, too.
“I’m very blessed. That is so nice,” Strode said.
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