By Ben Terris
Every morning when Newton South student Kelsey Swan, 16, wakes up, she has to lie in bed and pop her joints back into place. As she does this, her dog Mack turns on the lights.
This is just one of the many ways Swan gets help from her canine friend. Swan suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, connective tissue disorder that leaves her tendons and ligaments defective and makes getting around difficult.
“I’m in pain all the time,” Swan said. “I feel like my legs are made of lead, that my hips are grinding together, and when I try to lift my leg its like I have no muscle, just a bone.”
While the disorder wreaks internal havoc, there is no visible manifestation, a fact that Swan struggled with in her early years living in Connecticut.
“Invisibility works against me,” she said. “Teachers and nurses back in Connecticut said I was making it up because I don’t show it. Well, what teenager wants to walk around with gloomy look on face? Just because I didn’t want the disorder to define me, didn’t mean it wasn’t a part of me.”
The disease leaves Swan in constant pain that fluctuates due to the weather. In the winter months her joints get stiff and are more likely to dislocate, and in the humidity of summer she “has to wear every brace she owns because [her] joints get so floppy.”
Up until about four weeks ago, whenever Swan wanted to get around, she had to rely on her mom.
Fortunately for her, NEADS, a non-profit that provides dog assistance to deaf and disabled Americans, gave Swan Mack. A previous NEADS recipient already raised the $9,500 it cost for the Smooth-Coated Collie, and now Swan is being asked to raise money for the next.
The Swan family, made up of Kelsey and her mother Kimberly, believe that raising money for the next recipient is a true honor, for they know first hand how Mack helps out in innumerable ways.
“He lets me know when I should sit down, he gives me a sense of balance that I am otherwise completely lacking,” Swan said. “Anything I drop he picks up, I could drop a quarter and he’d pick it up, and of course he is there for my safety.”
According to Swan, if she falls, Mack knows how to “alert bark” until someone comes to help, and can even retrieve a cell phone for her.
Swan’s mother, Kimberly, said that getting Mack three weeks ago has been a high point on an otherwise difficult number of years.
“I used to live an upper middle-class life on a waterfront property in Connecticut,” Kimberly said. “But now, after a terrible divorce, and not being able to hold a job I’m living on $800 a month and food stamps.”
After moving to Newton, Kimberly was able to secure a job teaching in Newton, but said that with so much going on with her daughter, she wasn’t able to commit to work. Kimberly said that being a single mother of a disabled child has proven to be a nearly impossible task.
“I wanted to be able to handle it, and when I couldn’t I thought I was failing my kid, failing the school failing everything, she said. “It was like being hit by a freight train… But with Mack, I really feel like we were blessed.”