Stillman Student Refuses to be Defined by Health Disorder
No sooner than Molly enters a classroom, she finds her spot on the floor and relaxes. Art is her favorite subject because the studio is spacious so she never feels squished. But Molly is happy, well behaved and serene in every setting. She is the only dog on campus, so she elicits “oohs” and “aahs” from students and professors alike. Yet nothing seems to get her too excited.
In fact, this white-haired American Bulldog looks so docile that you can’t help but wonder, “Can she bark?”
However, her owner, sophomore Ellory Nichols, who recently transferred to Stillman College, knows another side of Molly. Nichols discovered that, in a crisis situation, Molly can display the type of heroic tendencies that made Lassie one of America’s most famous canines.
“I have had seizures since I was seven. I sometimes had three to four a day, but I was told that they would become less frequent,” says Nichols, who was eventually able to control the seizures with medication.
Unfortunately, two years ago, when she turned 19, they returned with a vengeance.
“I wasn’t under much stress. I had a good job, and I was living on my own. Then one day I had a seizure and no one could get to me. My parents were trying to get into my apartment to help me, but the key wouldn’t work. My landlord had to let them in so that they could drive me to the hospital.”
After that episode, her physician nixed the idea of Nichols living on her own and she was forced to move back home.
She and her family discussed getting a service animal who could alert others if Nichols started to have a seizure, but she wasn’t initially interested. Then, one day, while looking at a friend’s Facebook page, she stumbled upon the Montgomery Humane Society’s site and saw Molly’s photo.
“All of her puppies had been adopted, but no one wanted her. I figured there had to be a reason, but we arranged a meet and greet. They brought Molly to Tuscaloosa to meet me and said that I could keep her for a week to make sure I wanted her.”
“I went into a seizure the day after I got her. She licked my face and pawed me, then ran upstairs to get my mother.”
Nichols, who studied dance most of her life and plans to work in advertising and graphic design, insists that she “will not be defined by” her seizures. While some victims of seizure disorders have highly constricted lives, Molly’s presence has given Nichols much more freedom than she would otherwise have. Although seizures still prevent her from driving at night or living on her own, knowing that Molly will alert her before a seizure becomes full-blown gives Nichols the confidence to travel freely in the daytime, attend classes and participate in campus activities.
Although Nichols was initially known as “the student with the service dog,” she is now equally well known as a campus leader. Utilizing her training in ballet, jazz and acrobatics, she started a dance troupe in September. The group impressed everyone during Homecoming when they performed at the Sophistication Unlimited Fashion Show. Now Nichols is working with her advisor, Melissa Brooks, to revamp the organization and create the Stillman College Dance Theatre.
“I want to have a program for whoever wants to dance, but also have a serious dance company that you have to audition to be in,” says Nichols. “I hope to have auditions for the company in January.”
She envisions herself one day opening a spacious dance studio in an historic building. But, for the moment, her most daunting task is finding donors who can help the Dance Theatre purchase uniforms, costumes and props. Although she admits that the struggle to finance her dream is “difficult,” she remains optimistic.
By this time next year, she hopes the dance company will be ready to present its version of the world’s most popular ballet, The Nutcracker. And no matter how crowded the audience may be, one of the best spots on the floor will be reserved for Molly.
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