Student drives life-changing fundraising campaign

UniSA student Sarah Kalisimeras’ seven-year-old daughter Georgia with seizure alert dog Gracie. BUSINESS
UniSA student Sarah Kalisimeras’ seven-year-old daughter Georgia with seizure alert dog Gracie.

A UniSA student has led a $35k fundraising campaign to change the life of one special little girl.

That little girl is marketing student Sarah Kalisimeras’ seven-year-old daughter Georgia, who has epilepsy and Muenke Syndrome, and the funds raised have purchased a seizure alert dog for the Kalismeras family.

The seizure alert dog – named Gracie – is able to detect an oncoming epileptic fit and alert key people around Georgia before the seizure begins. Gracie is also trained to get help once the seizure starts and will then lie with Georgia while she has the seizure.

Using the skills gained in her Bachelor of Management (Marketing) degree, Sarah embarked on an eight-month-long fundraising campaign to purchase a fully-trained seizure alert dog after realising it could be an answer to her family’s health issues.

“In the last two years Georgia has tried seven different drugs to try to control her seizures and during that time she experienced a lot of horrible side effects,” Sarah says.

“The tonic clonic seizures Georgia experiences require a rescue drug to make them stop, but frighteningly this drug also makes her stop breathing. Having to worry about this happening wasn’t a way of life I wanted for Georgia, my two other daughters, or myself.

“Being a university student, I started to research and eventually I came across The Centre for Service and Therapy Dogs Australia, the only company in Australia able to train dogs to be alert to seizures.

“Our whole family, and especially Georgia, suffer a lot of anxiety as we are constantly waiting for the next seizure. Having a seizure alert dog takes away a lot of that crippling anxiety and we can all take a deep breath and allow Georgia the independence a seven-year-old little girl deserves.”

Sarah credits her studies in marketing for giving her the right foundation to pursue such a large-scale fundraising campaign, which involved digital marketing, website development and networking with corporate donors, as well as hosting events and chocolate sales.

“The degree has given me the confidence in myself to be able to achieve what I have,” Sarah says.

“My degree has been the one thing I have relied on immensely throughout the fundraising campaign – it gave me the tools to know who to approach, how to approach them and how to word documents.

“After graduation, I really want to stay at UniSA and do honours. Starting a foundation that supports other people to get seizure alert dogs is also on the horizon.

“I see seizure alert dogs for returned service men and women as a way to ease the burden of some terrible conditions that people live with. There are significant costs involved in raising and training seizure alert dogs and I really don’t think families like mine should have to incur all the costs.

“It took a lot of hard work raising what I did and many others don’t have the time or the skillset to do so. So if I can help make other families’ lives a little bit easier by helping them to get a dog then that’s a good thing.”

Georgia met her seizure alert dog Gracie for the first time just before Christmas last year. Gracie will complete her training and move in with the Kalisimeras family next month and will continue to change Georgia’s life for the next 12-14 years.