A local Williamstown family is looking to the community for assistance and support after their oldest son, Liam, was diagnosed with epilepsy last September.
Up until September 2021, 10-year-old Liam Vanartsdalen was a happy young boy, attending school, playing baseball and enjoying time outdoors with his friends. There was no sign to prepare the Vanartsdalen family for what was coming.
“In one day, he had seven seizures,” said Liam’s mother, Devin Stahl Vanartsdalen. “We took him to the hospital and they ran tests. There were no infections or anything else … The type of seizures he has are absent seizures, so he doesnt convulse or anything and sometimes it’s hard to catch them unless you are staring at him. It’s especially difficult in the middle of the night.”
After the initial trip to the hospital and now weekly EEG appointments, doctors are still unsure of the cause of Liam’s seizures. Since his initial episode, Liam has been placed on multiple medications to bring the number of seizures down from multiple a day to five to 10 a month. But because the doctors are unable to find a cause, there is no solution in sight to help end Liam’s seizures for good. He is now being homeschooled along with his sisters, Aria, 4, and Reese, 2. But there is one thing the family knew would help their son and ease the stress on their family.
“The service dog idea was something we always toyed around with and we started to look into it a few months after he was diagnosed,” said Devin. “But a lot of the companies that do this sort of thing are very expensive and the ones that offer financial assistance have several year waiting periods … We are a one-income household so we knew the only way we would be able to do this is to get some sort of financial help.”
After posting their GoFundMe in June of this year, the family finally raised their first goal of $7,000 to purchase their own dog. But according to Devin, this is only half the battle.
Now, the Vanartsdalen family has only four months to come up with the $18,000 they need to pay for specialized training for their dog to help detect Liam’s seizures. The training will include smell tests to figure out when Liam is having a seizure as well as training the dog to alert Liam’s parents in order for them to administer medication if necessary. The whole process and certification will take about two years.
But the seizure-alert training is not the only benefit this dog will bring. Because Liam’s seizures are absent, they are more difficult to detect. This means it is hard for the family to take Liam out of the house or let him go out with friends. This seclusion has been difficult for Liam and has led to depression and anxiety symptoms. While he is currently seeing a therapist, the family is hoping the dog will provide well-needed companionship for Liam as well.
“It has been very hard,” said Devin. “It’s hard because he wants to be outside and play sports. He can’t play sports because he has to be seizure free for two years before he can go back to that … He does have friends that come over every once in a while but he can’t go out because they are absent seizures and not everyone knows what to look out for.”
While donations to the GoFundMe are a big help to the family, Devin also started a P.O. Box for Liam in the hopes of finding him a few pen pals to keep him company. For those wishing to write to Liam, letters can be sent to P.O. Box 509, Williamstown, NJ 08094. The GoFundMe can be found on Devin Stahl Vanartsdalen’s Facebook page or GoFundMe.com.