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Family looks for service dog to help daughter’s seizures

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BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. --  It's a sacrifice any loving parent would make.

One family faces a tough struggle as their young daughter battles a serious neurological condition.  But making one addition to the family could help keep their daughter alive.

All of her young life, Olivia Zwahlen, 6,  has dealt with the effects of a serious neurological condition --  Myoclonic Epileptic Seizure Disorder, which is a form of epilepsy. Her mother, Sara Zwahlen, says it causes the little girl to have violent seizures some of which could come while she sleeps at night.

The Zwahlens say Olivia had just passed her first birthday in 2010 when her first seizure hit. The family had no idea what was happening to their daughter.

“Everything was normal. She hadn't had one before,” Sara Zwahlen said.

Now, six years later, the seizures still scare her parents, since she could take a nasty fall when they happen.

“She will have convulsions -- full body, arms shaking, her whole body shaking. Her eyes will roll into the back of her head,” Sara Zwahlen told FOX 4 News.

Olivia, who is about to enter first grade, never remembers the seizures after they happen, but her parents do. Olivia is their third child. The first two died at young ages, and doctors aren't sure if they battled the same disorder.

The Zwahlen family says adding a service dog specially-trained in caring for children with seizures would help. Sara and her husband, Craig, can't be with Olivia at every moment, and the dog would protect her while an episode takes place. Sara Zwahlen says the dogs are trained to protect seizure patients from taking violent falls.

“If bringing this dog into our home will help not only Olivia, but also her father and I to have peace of mind knowing she will be safe and be protected,” Sara Zwahlen.

“No parent wants to see their child, you know, experience these types of things.”

The Zwahlens say the service dog would likely sleep with Olivia and accompany her everywhere. Sara Zwahlen says one more seizure for her daughter could be one too many.

The Zwahlens hope to purchase the dog from Domesti-Pups, a training agency in Lincoln, Nebraska. The company’s website says each service dog receives 250 hours of training before it's placed with a family, and that's why it will cost as much as $14,000. Sara Zwahlen says her family hopes to adopt one early next year.

Olivia’s story is detailed on several crowdsourcing websites, including Red Basket.