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Sweet Surprise: How a Las Vegas family found healing through furry friends

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    LAS VEGAS, Nev. (KVVU) — Tricia Wilbourne is a teacher at Discovery Charter School. She read a lot of research about how therapy dogs help kids in the classroom. So she bought Annie the golden doodle to help out.

“I saw her engage students in reading,” she said. “And I saw the attendance go up because students didn’t want to miss the Fridays or the days that Annie was there,”said Wilbourne.

Annie did a lot of good in just six months with the kids. Then Annie suddenly had to quit, because Tricia did too.

On January 27, Tricia’s son Mark got into a near fatal accident.

“There was a car in the bike lane and for some reason I didn’t see it,” Mark said. “I don’t exactly remember.”

Iron Mark is his nickname. Tricia’s son was biking near Red Rock, gearing up for the triathlon.

“I looked up and the car was right in front of my face,” Mark said.

That was the last thing he remembered. Crews rushed Mark to University Medical Center, but he was badly hurt. They flew him to a hospital in Colorado to see spinal cord specialists. He was paralyzed from the chest down.

“I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t really do anything,” Mark said.

He spent months in rehab. Tricia was by his side the entire time.

“We didn’t think he’d have the use of his hands,” Tricia said. “At one point, we weren’t sure he’d get his voice back. His vocal cords were paralyzed.”

The triathlete couldn’t walk. He had to relearn how to talk, and slowly rebuilt his mental and physical strength.

“We quickly realized that he was doing it as the athlete he was,” Tricia said. “He was meeting milestones faster than his physician had thought.”

“I wanted to be independent, I didn’t want anyone to help me with anything,” Mark said.

Mark can still drive, just with some adjustments. Mark is even going off to college. So Tricia decided she’d go back to school too, to get back into teaching.

Tricia saw there were still some things her son couldn’t do alone.

“When you’re in the rehab hospital all the doors open, all the floors are flat, everything is in reach,” Tricia said. “In the able-bodied world, things aren’t like that.”

“I can pick things up on my own, but if it goes under a table I can’t go down there and get it,” Mark said.

Tricia realized she already had a helper in Annie. They started training the therapy dog to become a service dog for Mark.

One July afternoon, the family showed up for training.

Jeannette Forrey had different plans. She was waiting inside with a surprise.

“So when do I go out? As soon as we see them? As soon as they see us,”said Forrey who was hiding behind some furniture.

“Annie’s path had changed after Mark’s injury,” said Forrey. “She realized her son needed this dog more than her students.”

Jeanette runs 4E Kennels. That’s where Annie came from. She found out about Mark’s accident.

“Their faith, their hope and their perseverance is just incredible,” she said. “Their determination to stay positive through this whole entire thing was truly inspiring.”

“I thought we were here to visit Annie,” Tricia said after the surprise. “I thought it was just a time to train with her.”

“I wanted this puppy to be an extension of the love and hope and healing that Tricia had already started,” said Forrey.

Tricia now gets to train and name a new puppy. Mark and Annie now get to head off to college.

“What’s interesting is the goals he had before his injury are the same goals he still has,” Tricia said. “What’s even more beautiful is he’s going to meet those goals.”

Mark will be a freshman at University of Colorado, Boulder this fall.

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