Being told your child has a terminal illness must be truly devastating. Sadly, that’s exactly what this family faced with their son. All they could do was make his time on Earth as full of love as possible. And the furriest member of the family made their boy the happiest in the world.
Chester and Jennifer Hembree from Blount County, Tennessee, have a very special family. Their son Lucas was born with Sanfilippo syndrome, a rare and debilitating genetic condition that makes daily life a struggle. Unfortunately, the disorder is terminal, and currently there is no cure.
Technically, Sanfilippo syndrome also goes by the name of MPS III type A. “It affects 1 in 70,000 kids,” the Facebook page Prayers for Lucas explained. That, it added, is “roughly the same chances of being struck by lightning.” As a result of the disorder, little Lucas suffers many debilitating symptoms.
To begin with, Lucas’ body doesn’t break down waste like most other people’s. “Basically he lacks an internal garbage truck so to speak,” the social media page explained. Furthermore, the disease affects his joints, hearing, central nervous system, brain and internal organs.
As a result, Lucas suffers from seizures and low oxygen levels and has a tragically young life expectancy. “By the time a child with this is age 7-8 they are in a vegetative state and suffer frequent seizures and compromised immune system,” the Facebook page continued. “Then by ages 12-14 death occurs.”
“It’s a hard pill to swallow but we have come to terms with it and try to make each and every day special,” Lucas’ family wrote. But inevitably, as the boy got older his condition progressed. And by age four, he had lost 75 percent of his independence.
Of course, Lucas’ parents did everything they could to make his life as manageable as possible. The brave boy was given glasses, foot braces, a feeding tube, hearing aids, a wheelchair, and oxygen to help him breathe. However, his family had one more idea that they thought might help.
They decided that a service dog could make a world of difference for him. And with this intention, Lucas’ dad Chester set out to find a suitable canine companion for his son. Ultimately, though, he was unsuccessful – because two large obstacles stood in the way.
First of all there was the expense. Providers were asking $14,000 for a trained canine, which was beyond what the Hembrees could afford – and apparently, insurance wouldn’t help cover the cost either. Secondly, there was another issue that was just as daunting.
Doctors told Chester that an assistance dog “would never work” for Lucas. Apparently, his condition was too severe. “They told me that Lucas would not be able to use a service dog [due to] his aggressiveness and behavioral issues that accompany his disorder,” Chester said.
“I wanted him to be mobile while he still had some of his ability,” Chester concluded. Then, only a few months later, social media provided an answer. A rescue page asked if someone could help a Belgian Malinois dog that was scheduled to be euthanized at a shelter just two miles from the Hembrees.
She had been surrendered because of her owner’s lack of experience with the breed. But Chester used to be in law enforcement and had helped train Malinois. “I had the feeling in my gut and my mind was set,” he wrote. “I had to go see this dog.”
When Chester introduced the dog to Lucas, it was love at first sight. “Those two took to each other like it was meant to be,” he explained. “So it was decided that I would put my training skills to the test and prove the skeptics wrong.”
So the family took in the dog, named Juno. But even before her training began, the pooch seemed to know her calling was to help Lucas. For example, when Lucas’ oxygen levels fell dangerously low, Juno circled his chair and whined until she got the family’s attention.
“[He] was turning blue,” Chester said. “So after giving Lucas some oxygen he quickly returned to normal and Juno greeted him with lots of licks and affection. That’s when I knew she had the ability to pick up on his neurological changes.”
But that’s just one way that Juno helps her best friend. If he has a seizure, she will pin him down with her body and lick him until he stabilizes. She even lies on him to calm him down when his aggression gets the better of him.
Indeed, Juno has been a true gift to the family and allows Lucas more freedom and mobility. She acts as a brace to help him walk and assists in pulling his wheelchair. Juno can even help Lucas walk up and down the stairs safely.
Amazingly, she has given both Lucas and his family a new lease on life. As for Juno, she went from an underweight stray with a death sentence to a treasured family fur baby. And now she just loves spending time with her human brother.
“Juno and Lucas are inseparable,” Chester wrote on Facebook. “You don’t see one without the other close by. We do have to leave Lucas with his nurse and take Juno to the dog park for some R&R. We took them both together once and we couldn’t get her to quit working [and] play.”
“Juno has made such a difference in Lucas’s life; she gave him that extra confidence and us an extra set of eyes,” Chester added. You can find out more about Lucas and Juno’s remarkable journey, and their shared adventures, on their Prayers for Lucas Facebook page.