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Santa Maria Sun / Biz Spotlight

The following article was posted on September 5th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 27 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 27

Spotlight on: K9 For Gaby - Gabriela Leon

By Spencer Cole

The first time Gabriela Leon, 22, (Gaby for short) suffered a severe seizure, she was only 11 years old. She almost died. 

It wouldn't be the last time.

"I've never had a full year of being free from them," she said. The recurring epileptic issues eventually forced her to stop pursuing her education at Ernest Righetti High School as a freshman. Gaby told the Sun that she's tried, and failed, several times to get her GED. But every time she seemed to get in a rhythm of balancing the many facets of her life, another seizure set her back. 

Gaby Leon has had multiple seizures since her first major episode when she was 11. She says a service dog will help give her the freedom and security she craves as a young adult.

It would take doctor's 10 years to identify what triggered the tremors: a chemical imbalance in her brain. Even worse, one side of Gaby's brain is smaller than the other. 

"I was born like that," she said. 

And none of the prescriptions given to her thus far have managed to completely work.

Medical teams explained to Gaby that she could have surgery to help alleviate the issue; one of the options included a VNS Implant. It's called a Vagus Nerve Stimulator and is used to treat seizures when drugs aren't always effective. The device is similar to a pacemaker in that it is implanted in the chest and is programmed to stimulate a nerve, but in this case, it'd be implanted in the neck to help prevent convulsions. 

However, there are many risks involved with the procedure and there's no guarantee that the action will completely end Gaby's seizures. And that's before even considering the operation's astronomical cost, with numbers in the six-figure range, which would barely be covered by her insurance, Medi-Cal. 

About a year ago, Gaby suffered a grand mal, or catastrophic, seizure. Like when she was 11, the tremors caused her muscles to contract violently, and she lost consciousness. While recovering in the hospital, Gaby was introduced to a service animal, a dog that would visit and help monitor the patients. 

It gave her an idea: Maybe this is what I need. 

And she's not just looking for companionship. According to her neurologist, Gaby qualifies for a service animal, and a dog like the one she seeks could potentially give her the freedom she craves. 

"This medical condition has kept me away from the public," she explained, adding that since her first seizure she's lived a "secluded life" due to fears of embarrassment and humiliation in front of friends and strangers. 

Moreover, her incapacitating seizures put an enormous strain on her parents, including her mother, Maria.

"I want my family to be free," Gaby said. "They've gone through hell, especially my mom, in the last 11 years." 

With a service dog, Gaby would be able to live alone and potentially go about her life as any other young adult. The animals are trained to sense changes in sweat and saliva in humans to identify potential oncoming seizures. Moreover, major tremor events can sometimes result in the affected individual drowning in their own saliva, which is why the dogs know to lap up the excess until help arrives. 

The dogs also know how to call for aid, literally, and can serve as a calming agent when paramedics arrive. That's something Gaby is particularly keen on because a seizure is stressful enough before a team of EMTs swarm all over her to administer treatment.

The cost of a service dog is roughly $21,000, a large chunk of the cash (around $17,000) goes directly to training, while the rest would go to purchasing the pup. 

Unfortunately, Gaby's Medi-Cal does not cover service animals. 

For a year now, she has attempted to raise funds to buy the dog. But after initially raising around $300 on her GoFundMe account, she hit a snag and has seen only one donation in months. Gaby has since turned to making T-shirts emblazoned with the words "K9 for Gaby" and selling those and things like chocolate to reach her goal. 

Santa Marian Gabriela Leon is looking for donations to help her purchase a service animal to help deal with chronic seizures. Despite qualifying for a service animal, her insurance, Medi-Cal, does not cover the expenses.

She's also made a Facebook page to centralize her fundraising efforts, and said she hoped the move would help drive more traffic to her online fundraiser. 

"There's many ways a service animal can help someone in my position," Gaby said, "but for me, it's having stability."

To donate to K9 For Gaby, visit



• On Sept. 22, United Way will host a Common Ground Santa Barbara County volunteer training event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara at 1535 Santa Barbara St., Santa Barbara. Common Ground is a United Way program dedicated to recruiting, training, and educating volunteers to work with nonprofits on teams with AmeriCorps members to house vulnerable individuals and families experiencing homelessness. RSVP at or contact Debra at or at (805) 451-5604. A suggested $10 donation from all attendees will help cover continental breakfast, lunch, and planning, a United Way spokesperson said.

• The Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce will host its annual awards gala on Sept. 13 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Marian Theatre (PCPA) at Allan Hancock College. This year's awards will honor local businesses, community members, and nonprofits. "The variety of businesses and individuals selected each year is a testament to the strength of our community," Chamber President and CEO Glenn Morris said in a statement.


Staff Writer Spencer Cole wrote this week's Biz Spotlight. Information should be sent to the Sun via fax, mail, or email at

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