Napier resident Hannah Samson owes her graduation from EIT to Diego, one of 20 epilepsy assist dogs in New Zealand.

Samson graduated from EIT with a Diploma in Business on April 11 and she owes it to the service dog who looks after her husband, Cody, during and after an epileptic seizure.

"At the end of 2013 Cody went for his first MRI scan so when the neurologist came back we realised he had a large cyst on the right-side of his brain, a rare condition called porencephalic cyst, which was causing his seizures."

While still in Gisborne the couple filled out applications for the NZ Epilepsy Assist Dog Trust and went to its headquarters in Auckland in 2014.

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"Before we knew about the cyst I had signed up for a Bachelor in Nursing at EIT, Gisborne.
I did a year of studying and then asked for, and was granted, a year of absence because Cody's seizures had got worse ranging from severity and number.

"I gave up studying for that year. We moved to Napier from Gisborne in 2014 for better hospital treatment for Cody."

While on the waiting list to get Diego, she started studying again in 2015 for a diploma in business as a "fresh start".

"We got Diego in 2016. We understood it was a long process because each dog is trained individually to cater for each individual's needs during and after a seizure.

"Diego is an assurance card. Before we got him if Cody got a seizure someone who knew what was happening had to be there.

"We used to be joined at the hip but Diego allows me more freedom and I know that someone is there to help Cody if he needs it.

"If a seizure happens we have a button at home which Diego can press. He can also fetch medical bags to Cody. He can assist Cody coming out of a seizure because that's nasty, and he can go fetch the phone so Cody can call for help."

EIT graduate Hannah Sanson with partner Cody and son Wolfgang. Photo / Supplied
EIT graduate Hannah Sanson with partner Cody and son Wolfgang. Photo / Supplied

Because of Diego, pictured with the family at left, Samson could successfully complete her diploma.

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"I began my diploma in February 2017 and completed it last year."

Samson says there needs to be more service dogs like Diego in New Zealand for people suffering from epilepsy.

"He gives Cody the freedom to go out in the community without someone constantly at his side."

NZ Epilepsy Assist Trust board member Jan McEwen says Diego is the only dog in the Hawke's Bay area.

"We only have 20 dogs nationwide as most people with epilepsy can have their condition controlled by medication alone.

"The recipients of our dogs have seizures that cannot be controlled just with medication and the dogs perform a number of duties depending on what their person requires.

"Often when people have a seizure in public, members of the public can mistakenly think the person is drunk or on drugs. By having a dog wearing a coat with them, it is more obvious to people around them as to what is going on.

"Having an assist dog can help people have greater independence and the confidence to go out in public."