Tongue flopping and tail wagging, a short-haired German shepherd bounded toward her new friend, local resident Brittany Bolluyt.
Though Brittany, 21, had only met Katie the guide dog once before, she had already fallen in love with her. Placing her trust in Katie, Brittany grasped the dog’s harness and followed her cautiously across the room.
Brittany cannot walk safely on her own, because she lost her sense of balance after she sustained a traumatic brain injury when a car struck her in 1998. To increase Brittany’s mobility, the Bolluyt family hopes to purchase Katie, who is being trained to assist people with disabilities.
To raise funds for the $6,000 purchase, Northwestern College’s Psychology Club will host 4 Paws 4 Brittany tonight, Friday. The benefit will feature a concert showcasing students and faculty.
Brittany’s injury occurred in October 1998, just days before her ninth birthday. Walking home from school with her older sister Ashley, Brittany was struck by a car at an intersection a block away from their house.
Brittany’s mother Laurie panicked when her husband called her at work about the accident.
“All I could get was ‘Brittany – accident – helicopter coming,’” Laurie said. She arrived at the scene, and a helicopter airlifted the family to Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City.
Laurie said neurologists detected pressure inside Brittany’s head that was “off the charts.” To make matters worse, physicians disagreed on how to treat Brittany.
Brittany’s parents decided to forgo skull-removal surgery because they “couldn’t put her through any more.” Despite fatal predictions, she survived the critical period that neurologists said lasted up to 72 hours.
“We were told time and again she probably wasn’t going to make it,” Laurie told The N’west Iowa REVIEW.
After her five-week stay at Mercy, which included more than two weeks in intensive care, Brittany spent three months at the Rehabilitation Center for Children’s Care Hospital & School in Sioux Falls, S.D.
When Brittany came home in February 1999, she had much to relearn.
“It was basically like starting all over with a baby,” Laurie said. “She couldn’t go to the bathroom. She couldn’t sit up. She couldn’t roll over. All things we had to learn over again.”
Brittany worked with therapists to regain her speech and fine motor skills, and she participated in a horse therapy program in Sioux City.
“I had no idea the time and energy it would take in her direct care,” Laurie told The N’west Iowa REVIEW. “It was draining and physically taxing.”
At school, a one-on-one aide worked with Brittany through her junior year of high school, a “huge blessing” in Laurie’s mind.
Throughout middle school and high school, Brittany participated in Special Olympics.
After graduating from MOC-Floyd Valley High School in 2008, Brittany moved to her current home in Sheldon at Village Northwest Unlimited, a community operated by a nonprofit organization that offers services and training to people with disabilities. Brittany attends therapy and classes. She also holds a job there sorting soda cans.
“She doesn’t need to be isolated here with her old mother. She needs to be out with her peers,” Laurie said.
Last February, Katie entered Brittany’s life. The Bolluyt family first contacted Katie’s trainer, Midwest Assistance Dogs, two years ago. After filing an application and getting approval from the board of directors, Brittany was matched with a dog named Katie from an animal shelter. Their first meeting proved they were meant to be.
“Off she and Brittany went down the hall, and we were just amazed,” Laurie said.
NW’s Psychology Club hopes the funds raised at 4 Paws 4 Brittany will allow Brittany to bring Katie home.
“I think God calls us to love those around us, to serve where there’s a need,” said Kelli Brands, the member of the Psychology Club who organized the fundraiser. “The whole psychology department was available this weekend. We wanted to step up and help.”
In addition to raising funds to purchase Katie, the Psychology Club hopes the event will raise awareness about brain health.The winner of the night’s brain quiz will win “a cool prize.”
4 Paws 4 Brittany will be held tonight, Friday, from 8 to 10 p.m. at the Hub. Twenty acts featuring students and faculty are scheduled to perform. Admission is $1 at the door, and donations will be accepted.