Local teenager Kaelie De Heer hasn't let cerebral palsy get in the way of leading an active lifestyle at Pella Community High School. Now, she is raising funds for a service dog that she will receive next year.

A little over a year after De Heer's birth, her mother, Tina Uitermarkt, began to notice that De Heer's foot was twitching uncontrollably and she was missing several mobility milestones. De Heer had been born 10 weeks early.

After many tests and doctor visits, De Heer was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

“It's actually a very general term used to explain many conditions. It affects her left side more than her right and her legs more than her arms and hands,” Uitermarkt said. “She can still use her hands, but it's not the best motor control … pretty much anything you can think of in your daily life we have an added step." 

The family had applied for a service dog several years ago and were placed on a waiting list. When the family didn't see much progress they applied to a different service dog company called Domesti-PUPS. They were notified in October that they would be able to get a pup from the class will graduate in June 2018. 

When the family applied for a dog there was a class already in training. Once De Heer was approved for a dog, one of those dogs will be trained specifically to respond to De Heer's needs.

Her dog will be trained to retrieve things De Heer may have dropped, open and close doors and will know when to get help when De Heer needs it. 

When De Heer gets the dog, she and her mother will be trained to handle the dog and subsequently be able train other friends and family how to handle the dog. Additionally, De Heer will be able to train her dog with more commands later on.

De Heer said she is looking forward to gaining confidence when she receives the dog. Her mother is looking forward to her daughter not only gaining confidence, but more independence.

“I look forward to her being able to be a regular teenager and being able to do things that other teenagers do,” Uitermarkt said. “I'm hoping it'll boost her confidence a little more so she can go out and do more things in the community without having to have someone be there for her.”

The total cost for the dog is $14,000. The family began fundraising in November, and have raised roughly $2,900.

De Heer has raised money through t-shirt and sweatshirt sales, and Pella Community High School student Ethan Vance has led an effort to raise money for De Heer at school.

The family will continue to make plans for future fundraisers, Uitermarkt said. One fundraiser, which is still being finalized, is currently planned for March 24. The event will include a dinner and auction, Uitermarkt continued. 

Donations can be made toward De Heer's dog at RedBasket.org/1512/Kaelies-service-companion until Dec. 10. To give a donation after Dec. 10, contact Uitermarkt at kaeliesservicedog@gmail.com

Nicole Presley is the managing editor of the Pella Chronicle. She can be reached in the newsroom at 641-628-3882, or by email at editor@pellachronicle.com

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