Service dog could save Carmel Valley man’s life

Tristan Kasa reading the life-changing email from his uncle.

A 23-year-old Carmel Valley man has been looking for a companion that would dramatically change his life. Tristan Kasa has epilepsy and a service dog would be his perfect partner. Trouble is, he can’t afford it -- not by a long shot. But now, a surprise donor has entered the picture and Tristan is finally going to get what he so desperately needs.

Tristan’s mom, Shannon, says she first knew something was wrong when Tristan was 7. “I was driving him to swim practice after racing home from work. He was in the back seat eating a piece of pizza and all of a sudden, the pizza flew out of his hand and his arm started flailing around, but he maintained awareness. I pulled over and after about a minute, he said ‘Why does that always happen?’ That was the first seizure I had witnessed, but obviously not the first one he had.”

That first seizure proved to be nothing compared to what his seizures would become. Sometimes Tristan would have seizures where he’d lose awareness and start sleepwalking, responding only to hallucinations. He would try to run as if someone were chasing him. As the years went by, Tristan had more frequent – and more violent -- seizures as doctors tried a number of medications to help him.

When he reached his teenage years, the seizures became downright scary and continue to be that way to this day. His mom describes a typical one: “He gets stiff and falls and kicks, shaking violently. He turns blue and often doesn’t start breathing right away after the seizure ends. He has knocked out his teeth and broken bones from the fall.” Tristan still has three seizures a week, and following one, he’s very confused and needs someone to stay with him until he “comes back” or else he may wander off or injure himself.

Tristan made it through middle school with the help of his vigilant friends, then attended The Winston School in Del Mar, where the staff and students were very supportive. Despite his seizures, Tristan has always enjoyed sports. During his high school years, he joined the Mustang Rugby Club. His coaches and teammates were fully aware of his epilepsy and would recognize when he was having a seizure and help him. He played for three years and then assisted the coach the following year.

Tristan is able to hold down a job now and works part-time at a machine shop, packing parts to be shipped. But what he really needs is the service dog, which costs $28,000 – money that his family was hoping to raise through a nonprofit called Little Angels. However, fundraising efforts can take up to 10 years.

But then, a miracle happened. Tristan wrote to his uncle about his desire for the service dog – an uncle he hadn’t seen in almost five years because of a divorce. Uncle Steve wrote back. He said, “I have always been so proud of your determination and spirit. Your message touched my heart. I couldn’t begin to imagine how hard it’s been, buddy, but you keep working so hard. You need to know you are truly one of the kindest souls I will ever know in my life.

“I am so proud of the person you are, and I will gladly give you the entire $28,000 cost of your service dog training. I can’t wait to see the two of you build a special bond that is unforgettable and brings new opportunities to your life. I love you so much, my man. Excited for the next chapters of your life.”

Getting the service dog could literally save Tristan’s life. The dog will be able to signal Tristan before a seizure starts, which will allow him to get to a safe place before he falls. The dog will also make it possible for Tristan to go places by himself. Right now, Tristan is never left alone at any time. He has both a camera and a baby monitor in his bedroom, and the dog would be trained to use a special “dog phone” that, when activated, would call the numbers of family members to come during a seizure.

For his mom, Shannon, it’s a dream come true. “The words Steve wrote meant so much to Tristan. He absolutely adored his uncle and for him to say he still loved Tristan and all those kind words after not having him in his life for so long really meant a lot.”

Shannon can now breathe a sigh of relief knowing that help is on the way. “This dog would allow me to not have to focus so much on where Tristan is and worry when I hear something drop or have to listen to every breath he takes at night. Being able to alert Tristan and me in advance, this dog will allow him to get to the ground before I have to catch him. Not to mention save me the heartbreak and guilt of when he does get injured or killed because I didn’t catch him in time.”

There are still dozens of others waiting in line for a service dog. You can make a donation to to help another person in need. You can also mail in a donation at Little Angels Service Dogs, PO Box 219, Jamul, CA 91935. All donations are tax deductible.