Giana's family nears goal to acquire her service dog


LENOX -- Less than $3,000 to go and Giana Ott will be able to get a service dog specially trained to help the 7-year-old live with a debilitating brain disorder.

Giana, who is fond of chocolate and soccer, is a student at Williams Elementary School. Every day, she heads to school with blindness in her right eye, weakness on her left side and recurring seizures. She uses a wheelchair through most of the day. Tuesday, she came home early from school after suffering three seizures.

The Pittsfield family -- parents Mary and Richard Ott and Giana's three siblings -- has been raising money to get a service dog for more than two years.

Giana has schizencephaly, a rare brain disorder discovered shortly after her premature birth. It is a progressive disease that only worsens over time. Her life is full of trips to Boston and Springfield for appointments with neurologists and regular physical and occupational therapy. She takes six medications daily, which tend to leave her with a touch of ADHD and hypertension. When she has multiple seizures in a day, she can get a bit cantankerous, Mary Ott said.

She has a teacher's aid with her all day, and much of her school day is spent in the mainstream classes with her friends.

"They look for ways to help her stay calm in school, ways to settle her down," Richard Ott said.

According to her parents, they have raised more than $10,000 thanks to the generosity of a number of local donors and a $7,000 donation from pharmaceutical company Eisai through the non-profit agency that will supply the dog, 4 Paws For Ability.

Mary Ott works as a phlebotomist and lab coordinator at The UltraWellness Center, a clinic that identifies nutritional and lifestyle paths to personal health.

Dr. Mark Hyman, founder of The UltraWellness Center, uses a whole-systems medical approach called Functional Medicine. He has authored several books and appeared on a number of TV shows to talk about nutrition, lifestyle and their roles in healthy living.

On Tuesday, April 29, Hyman will give a lecture, titled "The Biology of Food Addiction [The facts, the myths, the rise in chronic diseases in the U.S. & how Functional Medicine and community can be the cure]," to benefit Giana's campaign to get a service dog.

Hyman knows Giana well, and the office helps with her dietary needs -- carbohydrates can be a hindrance for a girl with Giana's affliction.

"We try to help whenever we can," he said. "One of my main philosophies is that we're here to help each other."

He said his lecture will demonstrate how the corporate food processing industry "makes the U.S. fat by creating foods that are addictive" and strategies to counteract the affects of that addiction and bring the hormones and brain chemistry back into balance. There will be a question and answer dialogue following Hyman's remarks.

The lecture starts at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 29 at The Robert Boland Theatre in the Koussevitzky Arts Center at Berkshire Community College. Tickets can be purchased through The UltraWellness Center by calling 413-637-9991. The cost is $20 in advance or $25 at the door (on-site tickets are cash or check only). For more information:

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