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Dog's sense of smell becomes a life-saving tool for Army veteran

A dog will make a huge difference in one Army veteran's life after she suffered for years with conditions she says were caused her military service.
Posted at 8:03 PM, Apr 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-11 20:03:40-04

When Laura Williamson went into the Army, she said she always knew there was the possibility of dying for her country. 

She didn't think about the possibility that decades after her service she'd be fighting each day to stay alive.

"I've had thyroid cancer twice. I've had aggressive systemic mastocytosis. I now have mastocytosis of the GI tract, but that just stays — I'll have that forever," Williamson said.

She went into the Army serving as a mechanic in Germany. She said she was hand-picked to go to work in Edgewood, Maryland, as part of a special unit tied to nuclear, biological, chemical and radioactive weapons.

"We were exposed to multiple biological and chemical warfare agents," she said. "Sarin, mustard gas, Agent Orange."

Williamson said her ailments of today are a direct result of the exposure. In addition, she says the exposure to those toxins has left her with life-threatening anaphylaxis.

"If I walk in somewhere where there's bleach, my throat just swells, my tongue will swell over again in hives," she said. "If someone's wearing patchouli or lavender, which are also the basis of a lot of colognes and perfumes ... my lungs can't tolerate [it]."

As a result, she always carries EpipPens, needles, and vials of Benadryl to counter the attacks. Her children fear the worst will happen.

"My son had said, like ... if my door is shut, he won't come to my room until I come out because he's like, I'm not gonna be the one to find you dead," Williamson said.

Soon she will have some relief and a four-legged battle buddy to help sniff out problem scents before she has a medical issue. The organization Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD) has spent months training a black Labrador by the name of Toucan who will be able to alert Williamson to triggering scents in her area. 

The dog will be able to sense when she's having an attack and bring her medication, or bark to alert others.

"I'm going to be able to go outside, go places without the fear," Williamson said.

Toucan was made possible by a $50,000 donation to ECAD's Project Heal, providing trained dogs to veterans. It's a gift that provides relief to Williamson and her family.

"Toucan will alert if something goes wrong, and just the relief that gives [the children] that they can relax and know that if something goes wrong, she's going to bark she's going to get them is an amazing blessing to me," Williamson said. "You know, it takes something off their shoulders."

This story was originally published by Scripps News Cincinnati. 

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