A canine companion brings 'miracle' to Guilderland


GUILDERLAND, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Anyone who has ever owned and loved a pet knows they can have a positive affect on your life. NEWS10’s John Gray introduces you to a local boy whose dog did that and so much more.

Will Gibney, of Guilderland, was born with serious health challenges. His mom, Laura Assaf, says the warning signs started early.

“Will’s infancy was pretty tell-tale,” she recounted. “He was definitely a child who struggled with sensory integration issues. What that means is he was a child that was hard to soothe.”  

By the time Will reached kindergarten, what his family and teachers saw was heartbreaking.

“I actually had one specialist say to me, they thought it was emerging schizophrenia, because he would scream and rage and tantrum, and get a lost look in his eyes like he was carrying the weight of  the world.”

Will Gibney and his canine companion Toshi

Will was in and out of the hospital and with a team of doctors looking at him, searching for answers. Laura says they finally found it.

“Will was suffering from autoimmune encephalopathy, which meant his body was not producing antibodies, which means he could not fight germs.”  

Because of that, Will was filled with “strep” and that infection was attacking his brain. The only solution doctors could offer was a strong dose of antibiotics, and Will took them for the next seven years. Sometimes they worked, sometimes not. For a boy of only 12 years of age, it was a difficult life. That’s when Laura got an idea — why not try a different kind of medicine.

She contacted a group called Canine Companions. They match kids with service dogs. As Laura saw it, “Will has loved dogs since the day he was born. He loves dogs, so I said why not Will?” 

The two were matched and spent time together, and that’s when something amazing happened. As Will recalls it, “They tested my blood, and for the first time in my life I was producing antibodies. I wasn’t sick anymore.” 

His mother and the doctors couldn’t believe what they saw, so they tested his blood again a month later and sure enough, antibodies. Will was so thankful that he wrote a book about his experience with his dog Toshi and called it My Boy Will with all the proceeds going to Canine Companions.

As Will sees it, “I’m paying it forward because he changed my life for the better. I’d probably be in a much darker place without him, and I’m just so grateful for him.”  

The doctors still can’t explain it, but they say sometimes you just trust nature to know the right medicine. As for Will and Toshi? They’ve both been accepted to Siena for the fall semester.  His mother calls what happened a miracle. 

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