Fayetteville teen with rare epileptic condition will rely on service dog to attend college

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FAYETTEVILLE (WTVD) -- At first everyone just thought Gage Fitzgerald was clumsy. He dropped everything.

But everything changed in the Spring of 2013. The Fitzgeralds were in an English hotel. Gage promised his mom he wouldn't drop the lunch tray.

"I just dropped it and it went everywhere," the 17-year-old said.

"It was a let go and the hands went up like that," said Derek Fitzgerald, Gage's father, as he quickly lifted both arms in the air. "It wasn't just a normal slip or fall or anything like that."

"Then I knew and told my husband there's something terribly wrong," said Michelle Fitzgerald, Gage's mother.

A pediatrician saw nothing wrong, but gave the family the option of seeing a Raleigh neurologist. What was set to be an appointment of several hours was halted in the first few minutes. The neurologist made a diagnosis. Gage was suffering from the rare juvenile myoclonic epilepsy.

The seizures have gotten worse.

"He loses consciousness and falls to the ground," Michelle said. "He still does the, what we call the jerks. We call it dancing. He still does that, but they have progressed to what we call Big Kahunas."

The scariest Big Kahuna seizure happened in August. Gage went to take the trash out on his family's sprawling 12-acre property.

"About five minutes passed and he wasn't back," Derek said. "Something just clicked in our heads - Where is Gage?"

About a half hour later, with the help of searchers, Gage was found in a nearby field. He didn't know what was going on or who was around him.

When Gage said he wanted to attend college with his big sister in Greensboro, the Fitzgeralds knew he would need help to lead an independent life.

That's when they found Nebraska-based Domesti-Pups, a training ground for epilepsy service dogs.

"He would be alone and he's disoriented and he doesn't know what's happening," said Michelle. "But when he has his dog he will never be alone. He will always have his dog with him."

"They won't have to worry and people won't have to be on top of me all the time," Gage said. "They can relax a little."


This fall, Domesti-Pups approved Gage for a service dog of his own. The dog will be able to turn Gage over when he has seizures, fetch his medication, and alert humans of a seizure.

But first, the Fitzgeralds adopted Sade, a now-18-week old pup that's in the infant stages of the service dog program. The family got her a couple of months ago, and is helping to socialize Sade so that she will ready to enter the Nebraska State Penitentiary system, where Domesti-Pups train for a couple of years before being assigned to people like Gage.

In exchange, Gage is getting used to having a service dog. Eventually, he'll be able to take Sade to classes at Fayetteville Academy. Gage also wears a special GPS watch that dials loved ones and puts them on speaker phone when he's having a seizure.

Gage is excited about the possibilities of attending Guilford College, and having a service dog by his side. His relationship with Sade sends a simple, powerful message about living with adversity.

"Keep on pushing and just don't give up," said Gage. "It can't stop you from who you should be, and you can't let it get in your way."


In order to receive his service dog and attend a two week Domesti-Pups training with his parents this summer, Gage has to come up with $14,000.

His Fayetteville Academy family has already stepped up with the 'enGAGE' campaign, selling purple shirts with Gage's and Sade's silhouette, along with bracelets to raise epilepsy awareness. They'll host a Paint-It-Purple event at Friday night's basketball game.

If you'd like to donate to the cause, you can send funds directly to Domesti-Pups or Fayetteville Academy. Bring the funding information to the attention of 'Gage Fitzgerald's service Dog.' Contact information is in the following links: http://www.domesti-pups.org/ and http://www.fayettevilleacademy.com/.

On the Fayetteville Academy website, there is an address where funds can be sent, which will be forwarded to Gage's account.

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