Struggles Led to a Sense of Purpose and Satisfaction
My wife and I have been residing in Florida for 35 years, but I was raised in Wisconsin. Yes, I am a “cheesehead” who still roots for the University of Wisconsin Badgers and Green Bay Packers! I grew up in a medical family. My degree in business with a medical focus allowed me to market capital equipment. Through the years, I was fortunate to work for Siemens Medical while culminating and establishing my own company providing services to physician practices.
I enjoyed hobbies such as tennis, road cycling and playing trumpet (jazz and classical), but my life changed in July 2015 when I noticed a drop in hearing in my left ear and tinnitus and balance issues. This was on a Thursday evening and by Friday night, after contacting my ENT friend, I was diagnosed with a 2cm AN in proximity to my brain stem. I was referred to four different medical facilities, neurosurgeons and neurologists for surgery.
Unfortunately, surgery did not remove all of my tumor. My auditory nerve was severed and I had some facial paralysis, balance issues and two layers of tinnitus noise. I assumed that I would return 100% for the most part after 30-60 days of PT, facial, and speech rehabilitation, but I quickly realized my former norm would no longer exist. After two surgeries for an eyelid weight, I had a bout of denial and depression and was to the point of a potential nervous breakdown. I could no longer be amongst large crowds or noisy surroundings, let alone function in my career. Additionally, hearing in my good ear also dropped by 70% and is slowly declining. My world is going quieter. Embarrassing incidents, such as falling down due to balance issues, made me avoid certain restaurants and establishments. I had what I call, “Peter Pan” fall experiences. Lots of food on the floor and on me!
After my one-year ANniversary, a number of events occurred. A family member passed away. I was no longer able to travel or do my job. I condemned myself with anger and depression. With the support of my wife, family and counseling, I slowly began to realize I had permeated a lie of low self-worth. I needed a new focus and goals if I was to climb out of my depression. My wife and I became aware of hearing service dogs. We contacted a family friend who bred Vizslas, hunting bird dogs that typically aren’t used as service dogs. But, the breeder thought differently and we adopted Kai when he was three months old. He quickly became part of our family. When he was five months old, we began basic obedience which he picked up quickly. He was certified in basic obedience and we enrolled at the deaf services dog training school. Training was completed in six months and Kai was certified as a hearing service dog and also received his Canine Good Citizen certificate.
The ADA allows Kai to travel with me wherever I need to go . . . church, restaurants, airlines, appointments, etc. He alerts me to different noises and sounds. Even though I continue to struggle with frequent anxiety, Kai provides a level of confidence. He truly is my velcro dog! I do believe God allows challenges whether good or bad to occur while also providing answers and comfort through faith. In my case, it was Kai who helped restore my confidence and purpose.
I now train dogs to be the best possible companions for families. I've been able to reach out to the physicians I once worked with in my career and work with their family dogs. I've had more referrals than I can actually handle! This opportunity has provided new goals and helps build my confidence. I’ve become an ambassador for the Vizsla Club of America, raising awareness of the breed’s ability as service dog. This has been rewarding and helped me feel relevant.
Unfortunately, in mid-2018, I had a seizure in a parking lot. Kai laid over my body in order to protect me. I was unable to drive for six months, but medication helps prevent any further issue and my drivers license was reinstated.
Although I can no longer play the trumpet, tennis and cycle, I feel a sense of purpose and satisfaction in my season of change. Over time, Kai has been a comfort dog and helps those closest to me understand my physical and emotional struggles. He never fails to amaze me daily and has become a bit of a celebrity around town! I am grateful to have found Kai and for the opportunities that are a result of this partnership. As a member of ANA, I believe there is value in providing solutions, answers and sharing our stories.
Kai, Tom’s hearing service dog, was recognized by the American Kennel Club as one of three dogs in the U.S. nominated for an AKC 2020 Hero Award. To learn more about Kai and Tom, watch this video clip.