The healing power of dogs is unmatched in my SMA journey

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by Alyssa Silva |

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When living with SMA, building a survival toolkit is essential. These are the resources and strategies that help me navigate any challenges that come my way.

While most items are obvious, such as my medical equipment and assistive devices, my toolkit contains one unusual item that I can’t live without: companionship from my canine friends. I could illustrate why a dog’s companionship is key to my well-being in an indefinite number of ways. But recently, one reason reminded of this more than ever.

I was making my way home after receiving my 29th spinal tap for treatment with Spinraza (nusinersen) and hoping for a bit of relief. The traffic to get to the hospital had been nothing short of a nightmare. Then, during the procedure, I had to lie in an awkward position that triggered vertigo and nausea.

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The experience of getting a spinal tap is by itself nerve-wracking. (Who wouldn’t feel a uneasy about a needle injection into the spine?) I looked forward to a reprieve from a long day. However, I was in more pain than usual and exhausted beyond belief.

The following day, my symptoms lingered and my frustration grew. Typically, spinal taps cause me minimal pain and discomfort. However, it’s not guaranteed. Despite how successful a procedure can be, there is still the possibility of pain. On this day in particular, I was feeling the repercussions of it. My back was sore, my head throbbed, and my body was completely depleted of energy.

In times like these, I feel defeated. My spirits are low, and I’m not myself. Somehow, my dogs always sense how I’m feeling and know how to comfort me. The day after my spinal tap, Stella, my big, dopey golden retriever, jumped on the couch and plopped her head on the nape of my neck. She doesn’t typically do this, but in that moment, she knew exactly what to do. Somehow, it was everything I needed.

An absolutely adorable photo shows a beautiful golden retriever with a concerned look on her face lying on the couch with her head resting on the neck of a woman also lying on the couch, covered in a gray, shag blanket. The woman has a jejunostomy tube that's visible and is clearly in discomfort. Nevertheless, she is smiling due to the comfort the dog is providing her.

Alyssa Silva’s golden retriever, Stella, seems to know when and how to comfort her when she most needs it. (Courtesy of Alyssa Silva)

Blessed creatures

It wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. All my life, I’ve been blessed with dogs that have had the same qualities. When I’m sick, they never leave my side. If I’m crying, they give me slobbery kisses on my face. When I’m sad, they teach me how to be happy again. Their unconditional love is something that carries me forward in life with SMA.

Being surrounded by dogs for 30-something years, I don’t doubt that they have an innate ability to sense a person’s emotions and respond accordingly. They are more than just household pets or a furry friend. Dogs enrich the lives of those around them and help promote mental well-being.

This is why they are an indispensable part of my SMA survival toolkit. With every physical hurdle I face, the emotional responses are met with the comforting presence of a dog or two. The bonds we create foster a profound sense of joy and connection that becomes a pillar of strength in the face of adversity. As I navigate the world of SMA, the love and companionship dogs provide offer a unique form of healing I couldn’t find anywhere else.

Omg, this is the cutest dog picture. Two golden retrievers sit in the living room of a house. One is on the floor, lying on a rug, while the other sprawls out on a brown, leather ottoman directly behind the dog on the floor. The dog on the ottoman has its right paw extended down to rest on the other dog's butt, in a loving, friendly gesture.

Alyssa Silva’s dogs, Vince (in the foreground) and Stella, provide a level of caring and compassion that is unmatched. (Courtesy of Alyssa Silva)

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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