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Why Henry the hearing dog is a hero

Saved a life

Wednesday 11 December
Why Henry the hearing dog is a hero

- December 11 at 09:30

When Elaine Starkey woke up to find her dog Henry had jumped on to her bed and was pawing her arms she immediately knew something was wrong. Elaine is deaf and Henry is her hearing dog, trained to alert her to a variety of different sounds such as the smoke alarm, telephone and front door. But this was no normal alert.

“Henry is gentle. He’s trained to sit on the bed, lean up slightly and tap me gently on the arm,” she says.

“This time his claws were out, dragging me out of bed, so I leapt up thinking I’d missed the front doorbell.

“Normally Henry would run to the top of the stairs and make sure I was following a little at a time. This time he sprang down and kept coming back. I thought he was going to knock me over. He was frantic.”

Elaine, 58, from Telford, Shropshire, was confronted by a horrific sight.

Her husband Steve was kneeling over the toilet, blood pouring out of his nose at an astonishing rate.

“He was trying to stem the bleeding with toilet paper but it was rushing out at such a speed that he had to keep flushing the cistern. He had been bleeding for over an hour by that point and looked ashen. I ran upstairs to wake my daughter Victoria (aged 24) and she called an ambulance.

“Since puppy training Henry has been treated every time he alerts me to something but this time he didn’t want to know. He just lay down on the floor at Steve’s feet and wouldn’t move, even when the paramedics came.”

Since puppy training Henry has been treated every time he alerts me to something but this time he didn’t want to know
Elaine Starkey
As he reached hospital Steve finally stopped bleeding. It turned out the bleed had been caused by a burst artery in his nasal cavity due to high blood pressure.

“It’s difficult to say exactly how much blood I lost but it was several pints,” says Steve, 59.

“The doctors in the hospital explained that had Elaine not found me when she did I would have passed out from blood loss and choked on the blood that was clotting as it was pouring through my nose. Henry saved my life.”

Henry, part golden retriever, part standard poodle, is one of 750 hearing dogs in the UK.

The charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People was founded at Crufts in 1982.

It is a centre of excellence in training hearing dogs to alert deaf people to sounds and dangers in the home, workplace and public buildings. “But Henry went above and beyond the call of duty,” says Elaine.

“He could have stayed with Steve and I would have got up an hour later, pottered round and then gone downstairs. Steve most likely would have died in that time.

“The paramedics were amazed that he was still alive when they arrived.”

Elaine was born with hearing but while she was working in a busy office during her 20s she realised that she couldn’t hear the phone properly when it rang.

She was diagnosed with otosclerosis, a degenerative condition which affects the tiny bones in the middle ear and causes gradual deafness. “Looking back, I’d actually been lip reading for almost 10 years without realising. Since then I’ve lost hearing in both ears and am now classed as profoundly deaf.

“In January 2003 I had a bone-anchored hearing aid fitted which is a titanium rod anchored to the skull.

“The bones grow round the metalwork on to which a hearing aid is fitted and transmits sound through the bone.

“It works to a certain extent but I have good days and bad days and when I take it off at night I’m totally deaf.”

As her hearing declined so did her confidence. “You can look on it as not being ill but it’s very isolating,” she says.

“Before I got Henry I felt very lonely and there seemed no point in going out. I’d do the school run and that was it. Getting him was the best thing I’ve ever done.”

“All hearing dog recipients say the same. Once you’ve got one, you can’t imagine life without them. I’ve been with Henry and he has sensed that a car was going to reverse and has nudged me out of the way.”

Three days after Steve’s first incident the same thing happened again and he was rushed back to hospital.

“This time doctors chemically cauterised the artery to stop the bleeding and gave me blood pressure tablets,” says Steve.

When he returned home Henry was there to greet him. “He’d lie on the bed and look after Steve,” Elaine recalls.

“He isn’t just my hearing dog he is part of the family. Without him I don’t think Steve would be here today.”

For more information on hearing dogs or to make a donation visit or call 01844 348100


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