Hannah Sichelstiel hugs her mom, Lisa Sichelstiel, at their home in Manchester July 6.
Hannah Sichelstiel hugs her mom, Lisa Sichelstiel, at their home in Manchester July 6. (Natalie Eastwood / HANDOUT)

Manchester resident Hannah Sichelstiel, 12, is hoping to get a dog.

But for her and her family, adopting a furry friend means more than just gaining a playmate. It means having a watchdog to alert her parents to possible seizure activity in the pre-teen.

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Hannah has Dravet Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy that begins in infancy and causes physical and mental delays.

In Hannah's case, her posture, mobility, balance, fine motor skills and speech have all been impaired.

Lisa and her husband are holding fundraisers in the hopes of raising the $15,000 needed to buy the service dog from 4 Paws for Ability, an agency that trains many different kinds of service dogs, including seizure assistance dogs. The money will go toward paying for the 16 months of training the dog will undergo in order to be ready to serve as Hannah's service dog.

As part of their campaign to raise funds, called 4 Paws for Ability for Hannah's Hope, a Coach purse bingo will be held at Manchester Valley High School at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 29. It is $20 for 20 games of bingo and $20 for a raffle ticket.

A Coach purse filled with prizes will be given to the winner of each bingo game. Several other prizes will be available, from Vera Bradley bags to gift cards. Also available at the bingo will be 4 Paws for Ability for Hannah's Hope T-shirts for $20.

Although she is cognitively at a first-grade level, Hannah is fighting to become more independent, and is developing a "little girlie attitude," said her mom, Lisa Sichelstiel.

"She's starting that pre-teen 'I know it all' kind of thing. She wants to be independent very badly, and that's one of the reasons we're trying to get a service dog — because I can't always give her independence because I just never know when a seizure's going to strike," Lisa said.

All dogs are able to detect the chemicals released when a person is having a seizure, and some even have a natural tendency to signal a warning, according to 4 Paws for Ability's website.

The service dog will have a year of basic puppy training and then another five or six months of training as a seizure dog, during which it will learn how to recognize the specific scent Hannah emits just before, and during, a seizure and then alert Hannah's parents by barking, nipping at their toes or using another designated sign.

The dog will also be trained to keep Hannah from wandering off by blocking her with its body. Wandering away is a dangerous habit for someone who has no sense of fear or danger, Lisa said. It is especially becoming a problem because Hannah does not want to hold her Lisa's hand in public places because she feels too old for that, Lisa said.

Lisa gave up her job as a retail loan processor when Hannah was 7 to take care of her full time, Lisa said. A service dog would give Lisa the sense of security to leave a room and know that her daughter is safe.

Lisa's aunt, Brenda Scott, said that without a service dog, Hannah needs constant supervision.

"They can't do anything like a normal family can ... they just can't get up and go like I would," Scott said.

Still, Hannah has come a long way from her first terrifying seven years of life, during which doctors couldn't provide a diagnosis for the seizures that would wrack her body anywhere from five to 50 times a day, sometimes lasting as long as 35 minutes.

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With the Vagus Nerve Stimulator, an electronic device implanted into her chest when she was seven, Hannah now experiences only about 11 seizures a month — the longest lasting about five minutes.

The VNS releases a stimulation to her brain every 30 seconds. When Hannah does have a seizure, a special magnet can be swiped across her chest, increasing the intensity and duration of the stimulation and shortening the length of her seizure, Lisa said.

The VNS also shortens the recovery time after a seizure so Hannah can get back to what she was doing within 15 minutes of the episode. Before the VNS, Hannah would be wiped out for several hours, Lisa said.

Hannah has two brothers: Joe Sichelstiel, 21, and half-brother Rob Sichelstiel, 25.

Despite Hannah's health issues, Joe said he has never seen her as being disabled — to him, she is just his sister.

"I never looked at Hannah like there was something wrong with her … I looked past all the problems," Joe said.

Kathie Dubay, who was Hannah's day care provider for five years, said she still considers herself like a second mom to Hannah.

"She was always happy; always had a smile on her face; always wanted to hug people," she said.

Hannah makes on impact on the people she meets, even if it is just making someone happy with a hug, Lisa said.

"You can tell she brightens their day as much as they brighten hers," said Karl Sichelstiel, Hannah's dad.

Karl said his daughter is "everything" to him.

"She lights up when I come home from work or come inside from mowing the grass ... I can tell I have a special place in her mind and her heart, which draws me closer to her," Karl said.

Although Lisa wants to help Hannah by getting her a service dog, she said her family's campaign is also about educating the public about epilepsy and Dravet Syndrome.

"It's just about spreading awareness, and hopefully other families can read our story and know they're not alone," Lisa said.

If you go:

What: Coach Purse Bingo: Benefit for 4 Paws for Ability for Hannah's Hope

Where: Manchester Valley High School, 3300 Maple Grove Road, Manchester

When: Doors open at 5:30 p.m.; games start at 7 p.m.

Prizes: Coach purses filled with prizes for each bingo game, Longaberger baskets, Vera Bradley bags and gift certificates to area restaurants

Cost: $20 for 20 games; $20 for a raffle ticket; special bingo games will be available at an additional cost not yet determined; and free door prizes will also be available for bingo participants.

Food: $4 beef barbecue sandwiches from Miller's Market in Manchester; baked goods for sale.

Contact: Lisa Sichelstiel at 410-374-4508, Anita Wagner at 443-375-8227, or Manchester Valley High School at 410-386-1673.

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