A loving family in Alcoa, Tennessee has sacrificed much to care for their disabled son and his devoted service dog. While they are strong in their faith, devotion, love, and dedication, they are desperately short on money.
This Christmas hopes to find the Hembree family the help that they need to sustain them through the next year.
Chester and Jennifer Hembree are happy to make sacrifices for their son, Lucas, who is almost 6 years old. Lucas suffers from Sanfilippo Syndrome, a degenerative, incurable disease.
The loving parents often go hungry to ensure that they have enough money to pay for Lucas’ medical treatment. And they are inspired every day by the connection between Lucas and his service dog.
When he saw his son suffering, Chester knew that he had to get Lucas a service dog. That dog, Juno, was adopted only days before she was scheduled to be euthanized. But now the devoted Belgian Malinois is a beloved member of the Hembree family.
Chester is thankful for the decision to get Juno. He advocates both pet adoption and responsible pet ownership. “Animals in the shelter aren’t damaged goods – they’re misunderstood or their owners were irresponsible,” Chester stated emphatically.
Since that fateful day when they adopted Juno, she has become an invaluable part of Lucas’ support team. But this disorder is catching up quickly with this little boy who wears a permanent smile. And the medical bills are mounting, as well.
“Lucas is doing well for the most part,” Chester stated somberly.
“He’s been declining from his disorder. He’s losing his ability to walk. We knew it was coming, but we had hoped that it wasn’t going to be so soon. It affects us more than it does him.
“He just keeps on going, smiling, laughing, and trying to be as normal of an almost-6-year-old that he can. It just hurts us having to limit him so much.”
While Juno and Lucas share a special connection, Lucas is also slowing losing his ability to communicate with people.
“His ability to speak is almost completely gone now. It’s hard even for us to make out what he says. He’s down to a ten-word vocabulary.
This might be the last year that we will be able to interact with him on a cognitive level,” Chester said sadly.
Juno has noticed Lucas’ decline. “She has been down in the dumps because she knows that Lucas is changing,” Chester stated.
“We’ve had a lot of bumps and bruises this year, but we are still hanging in and surviving. Each day we are given is taken as a gift from God and a true blessing.
“We are trying to make ends meet. This year, we spent $23,056 just on Lucas’ medical bills. It gets a little thin around here. Jennifer and I have grown accustomed to going without eating to make things last.
“I’ve lost 60 pounds since the year before last. I’ve been eating only once a day for the last two years now.
“The Lord has always provided for us and kept his promise. When I first found out about Lucas, I prayed and told the Lord that we can’t do this alone. I knew we couldn’t afford what was before us, but would do everything that we could and not give up.”
“Lucas isn’t about to give up, so neither are we.“
Despite their struggle, the Hembree family continues to see the good in the world.
“We hear all the bad stories in the news that make people want to give up on society. But I see a different side of society. I see the compassion of people that reach out and want to help a perfect stranger,” Chester stated.
“Jennifer is taking Lucas to Shiner’s Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky this week to get his new wheelchair. We only had fifteen cents left in his account and a four-hour one-way drive. Someone donated $100 to his account, which will cover the fuel for the trip. That was a huge relief for us,” Chester added.
“I just want to thank you for letting me tell the whole story that not many people know. That really means a lot to me.”
Can you help the Hembree family have a Merry Christmas?
They’re praying for help. Are you listening?
Please consider sharing this story and donating to this loving family for Christmas.
May you have a very Merry Christmas – every last one.
Are you interested in becoming involved with service dogs in the Seattle area?
Seattle-based Service Dog Academy is a PET and service dog training school located in the West Seattle neighborhood of Seattle, WA. They use humane, positive training methods to quickly address behavioral problems. One hundred percent of the profits from training goes toward supporting the low-cost service dog training program.
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