Family deserves training support

Published 7:26 pm Saturday, January 13, 2018

Rare conditions, especially in children, bring a frightening and little-known set of symptoms that stymies even the best doctors, until the diagnosis that exactly fits is finally ferreted out of some medical journal or pinpointed by a test or confirmed by a nurse or doctor with a hunch, or maybe just a conversation with someone who has heard of it or Googling the exact right set of words.

So it was with 9-year-old Anna Grace Atkins, who lives in Western Branch. Her parents, Beth Ann and Jeremy Atkins, had started noticing when she was about 5 years old that she frequently waved her hand in front of her face while she was outside. At first, her mom thought she was brushing her hair from her face, and she pinned her hair back in response. But the waving continued.

Finally, a neighbor noticed the behavior and found videos and articles online about “sunflower syndrome.” Young children with the syndrome experience the urge to face the sun and wave an open hand in front of their eyes, which induces seizures.

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Anna Grace also experiences several other types of seizures, even when she’s indoors. She might start talking and then stop in the middle of a sentence, and she is especially in danger in parking lots, where she’s oblivious to her surroundings.

Fortunately, dogs are our best friends, and a chocolate Lab named Maggie has come into the Atkins’ life to be a service dog for Anna Grace. She sleeps with her for when she has seizures at night and can help guide her away from oncoming traffic in parking lots.

The family has been training with Maggie since May through the PAWS Training Center in Virginia Beach. But though they’ve already raised more than $4,000 for Maggie’s training, they still need about $6,000.

The family is raising money online and by mail, so the community can donate. Donations for the Atkins family can be made to the PAWS Training Centers’ headquarters at 1315 Lloyds Road, Nottingham, PA 19362, or online at the “Anna Grace + Maggie’s seizure response dog training” page at

If you have the means to do so, it would mean a lot to this family to have your support.