Soccer player’s best friend is team’s Most Valuable Pet
SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — Spartanburg Methodist College soccer player Mackenzie Ramsey’s best friend also is on the team.
Her best friend has never played in a game, though. She goes to practices, she attends classes and she takes van rides all across the Southeast just like everybody else. But during games, despite the fact that she is wearing her uniform, always ready for action, she stays on the sidelines. She remains laser-focused.
There can be no debate. She is the MVP.
Most Valuable Pet.
Her name is Violet, which also is the color of the vest she wears as a service dog. She’s an English cream Labrador, to be proper. Her white fur against the vest is similar enough to the white jerseys and the royal blue numbers the Pioneers wear at home games.
Violet is an important member of the team. But her main concern is Ramsey, the freshman midfielder from Kings Mountain, N.C.
When she was only 10 months old, Ramsey suffered a seizure that was found to be caused by a serious form of meningitis, inflammation of the tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. She had five seizures, in fact, as an infant. There was some brain damage. But there were no further indications of a problem until she had a seizure in the middle of a chemistry class in high school.
“When I went to the doctors, they told me they were surprised that it hadn’t returned earlier,” Ramsey said. “Then I found out I had a new problem.”
Ramsey also has mast cell disorder, a malfunction of her white blood cells. Doctors are not exactly sure what is going on and Ramsey is on a waiting list for further testing at Vanderbilt University.
“Nobody knows what to do,” she said. “The way it’s been described to me is that my brain and not my heart is sending adrenaline messages to my body.”
And those cause seizures.
“I have absent seizures about once a month and convulsion seizures about once a year,” Ramsey said. “When I have what they call absent seizures, I just stare off into nothing, and when I come back I’m really emotional and I just cry and cry and I don’t know why I’m crying. When I have convulsion seizures, I don’t remember anything. Other players will tell me that I said I was really tired, but I don’t remember that. Sometimes before one of those seizures, I smell things that aren’t really there.”
That’s where Violet comes in. She can detect when Ramsey is headed toward a seizure.
“She gives me about a five-minute notice,” Ramsey said. “One day in class, she started nudging on me and I checked my heart. It was racing. Then I started to feel chest pain. I was releasing adrenaline like I was getting ready to jump out of a plane. That’s how my doctors described it to me.”
Service dogs normally don’t even get assigned until they are 2 years old. Violet won’t be 2 until January. But there was such a strong bond between dog and person when they were introduced that it was decided Violet would go to Ramsey permanently if enough money could be raised. It wasn’t cheap. Twelve thousand dollars. Insurance didn’t cover any of it.
Ramsey’s family started a campaign and got a few thousand toward that goal. But then David Brinkley, a resident of Kings Mountain, owner of the Brinkley Financial Group, former football player at Western Carolina and now a candidate for the N.C. House of Representatives, found out about Mackenzie and Violet. He donated $10,000 to finish the adoption process.
“I don’t even know him,” Ramsey said. “But I am so thankful.”
When Violet detects a problem during games and practices, she starts whining and won’t sit still. Usually it’s the players on the bench and not head coach Dan Kenneally noticing the dog’s behavior.
“The girls will tell me if Violet is whining,” Kenneally said. “Some days, when Mackenzie’s parents are here, Violet will sit at the top of the hill with them. They’ll let us know. Her dad will come down and say that he thinks Mackenzie needs a drink of water and I know what that means. That’s his way of telling me that Violet is uncomfortable. So I’ll take Mackenzie out for a little bit and we’ll keep an eye on her.”
Violet actually monitors the whole team.
“There was one day on the bus and Evelyn (Frierson, freshman midfielder from West Columbia) wasn’t feeling good. Violet went over and put her head in Evelyn’s lap,” Kenneally said. “There are some days when Mackenzie will leave Violet in my office. If I’m stressing over something, I’ll get off the phone and Violet will come over and put her head in my lap, too. She takes care of us. When she is wearing her vest, she is strictly Mackenzie’s. When she has the vest off, she is with whoever is having a bad day.”
Ramsey was trying not to cry as she gave her dog the highest praise.
“Violet is a blessing,” she said. “Violet is my best friend.”
Information from: Herald-Journal, http://www.goupstate.com/