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Thursday, March 15, 2012

The sick little girl given a new leash of life by her dog: How Mr Gibbs keeps Alida, 3, alive by strapping oxygen tank to his back

-Alida can run and play with dog as he follows her while carrying oxygen
-She can survive briefly if tubes come loose from tank on golden doodle
-Family moved 2,000 miles so she could be with specially-trained animal

A sick little girl is being kept alive thanks to her best friend – a dog who carries her oxygen tank on her back.

Alida Knobloch’s faithful canine companion Mr Gibbs has been specially trained to shepherd the three-year-old, who breathes though a tube most of the time.

He follows her closely as she plays in her family's ten-acre land in Louisville, Georgia, uses the slide or even rides her bike.

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Faithful friend:Alida Knobloch, who breathes through a tube, with dog Mr Gibbs who carries her oxygen tank

Alida, who was diagnosed with neuroendocrine hyperplasia of infancy (NEHI) when she was just eight months old, is able to breathe without the tube.

But it is very difficult for her and Mr Gibbs is on hand for when she needs the oxygen. It also means she can move around without having to carry the heavy canister herself.

Often the pair move about in tandom as she plays while breathing through the tube and he runs alongside her.

The tubes can be reinserted into the tank if they come out. But it is not that easy for a toddler to do and her parents prefer them to be removed only when they are close to hand.

Her rare condition was only discovered in 2005 and has just 800 documented sufferers worldwide, it causes diseased pieces of the lungs to filter oxygen through extra layers of cells making it hard or almost impossible to breathe.

For Alida, and her parents Aaron and Debbie Knobloch, it meant that even a walk in the park was very difficult because equipment was too heavy for the youngster to be able to carry herself.

As parents they wanted to do something to help their daughter navigate life despite having a tube trailing her at all times.

The couple found out about 'service dogs' from a TV programme and realised an animal trained to help the blind could be trained to help Alida.

They found help in the shape of golden doodle - a retriever crossed with a poodle - dog Mr Gibbs and even moved 2,000 miles from their native Utah so Alida and Mr Gibbs could be together.

The family realised there was a long waiting list for service dogs and didn't want to take one away from someone else who might need it more on the list.

Now - thanks to trainer Ashleigh Kinsley - Alida and Mr Gibbs love nothing more than playing and running around together with the dog literally acting as Alida's life saver.

Alida loves Mr Gibbs so much she said: ‘He's my best dog.’

By her side: Mr Gibbs beside Alida as she plays the part of as princess in a school play

Always around: Mr Gibbs follows Alida down a slide as she momentarily breathes without her oxygen tubes

Family: Mr Gibbs and Alida with her parents Aaron and Debbie Knoblach and her baby sister

Mrs Knobloch, 39, a nurse, said Alida and Mr Gibbs were growing up together and learning all the time.

She said: ‘Alida never complains about her condition, at the moment we she does have a habit of trying to pull out her tubes though, we have to tell her that's not a good idea.

‘She loves Mr Gibbs and he loves her too. We're trying to make life easier for her and she's just now starting to realise she's different, but as the bond between her and Gibbs gets stronger, we think things will get better.

‘As a pair they do work well together, Mr Gibbs has the oxygen tank on his back and then Alida has his leash.’

Loving: Alida, who suffers from a rare condition called neuroendocrine hyperplasia of infancy, has learned to rely on Mr Gibbs, who - in turn - has become a doting and attentive dog

Trip: Alida and Mr Gibbs on a family holiday to Florida where they were dwarfed by a giant Woody toy, right

Having fun: Alida, who was diagnosed with the condition at age eight months, lies on the floor with Mr Gibbs

Mrs Knobloch said Alida was born premature and when they first brought her home she was given oxygen as a precaution.

She said: ‘She was on oxygen just to make sure she would make it through, but by eight months doctors became worried she still needed it.

‘It was then that they told us she had NEHI, it's so rare that it was only discovered in 2005 and there have been only 800 cases worldwide.

‘There is some good news because the damaged tissue in Alida's lungs is not growing so as her lungs grow and the healthy tissue increases we've been told that eventually she may be able to do without the oxygen during the day.

‘Alida knows she is different, she calls the oxygen her 'O' and she tells us if needs more because she can feel if she is getting low.

‘Mr Gibbs is still a young dog and obviously Alida is still too young to give him too many commands but the pair of them are growing up together.’

Mrs Knobloch is now working with the chiLD foundation charity to raise $30,000 to help families both in the US and the UK with research into the new disease.

Dad Aaron said: ‘We're trying to provide some independence for her, and then, after we saw this programme on TV, we thought, 'What about a service animal?'.

‘He's still learning, he's very much a puppy in some ways, playful and gangly. But when he wears the vest, he's all business and does really well, even in public.’

‘We have to train him to follow Alida's directions, he follows our instructions, but getting him to listen to a three-year-old is harder. But he's getting used to her.’

Happy: Mr Gibbs gives Alida hope despite the incredible hardship she must endure

Every order the family gives, Alida has been taught to echo, and the dog is starting to accept her as his charge, the pair even managed to negotiate the crowds on a recent family holiday to Disney World.

The family is currently raising funds for research into NEHI.

To donate to the cause, visit www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/sweetalida/nehi.



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