Returning a favor with Faith

Published 12:45 pm Monday, June 30, 2008

It looks like a normal scene in many families.

Skyler Warren sits in the foyer of her home in Tryon, laughing as her dog, Faith, rolls over on her back. Warren, 14, rubs her dog&squo;s belly and giggles as Faith squirms.

But Skyler&squo;s not just a little girl playing with her dog. The two are a team. Not only are they best friends, but they share a unique bond.

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When Skyler was six months old, she was diagnosed with Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis, also known as LCH. The disease is an immune disorder, which is best described as a &dquo;cousin&dquo; of cancer. It&squo;s an illness that affects one in 250,000 children.

It was this illness that led to the teamwork now shared by Skyler and Faith.

Skyler has been going to the Ronald McDonald house for the last ten years, getting check-ups. It was there she first had contact with therapy dogs.

A dog named Gus is the one thing that sticks out in her mind from all her visits to the hospital. Gus would come and sit in her lap, bringing on a fit of laughter and plenty of smiles.

So when the Warrens got Faith last Christmas, joining the Therapy Dogs team was one of the first ideas that popped into Skyler&squo;s head.

The Warrens contacted the local branch of Therapy Dogs, Inc., and Skyler entered the training under the tutelage of Katie Malone.

Quietly and with receptive ears, Skyler listened as Malone trained a room full of people and potential therapy dogs.

During the training, Faith was interested in the other dogs, Skyler said, but other than that she was really calm.

Upon graduation from the course, the 14-year-old immedicately became busy, visiting nursing homes in the community, sharing the happiness she found while visiting the Ronald McDonald house.

&dquo;I think that being able to visit and share Faith with others is going to bring Skyler an amazing amount of joy,&dquo; Malone said. &dquo;The fact that she is so young and recognizes that she has a special dog that she can share with others is impressive alone.&dquo;

Not only is she going to nursing homes and sharing her furry friend, but she&squo;s also informing her classmates at Polk County Middle School about the benefits of therapy dogs.

Skyler, a rising ninth grader, took Faith to school with her for her final project. With a poster board and some pictures of Faith&squo;s visits to nursing homes, she spoke in front of her classmates. Her final thesis for the report was that dogs would not disrupt the classroom. She got an &dquo;A&dquo; on her research project.

Skyler&squo;s school project is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what Skyler and her family are doing to educate people about LCH.

Skyler&squo;s dad, Claude, built the website for LCH. Before then, there was no website. The website now has 26,000 members and Sandra Warren, Skyler&squo;s mom, is the lounge host. The website is located at

&dquo;(The website) has had an impact on this whole community of patients,&dquo; Sandra Warren said.

Located on that website is the story of Skyler. Although Skyler has had the ailment since she was two weeks old, she wasn&squo;t diagnosed with LCH until she was six months old in Colorado. She developed a severe, bleeding diaper rash, &dquo;cradle cap,&dquo; bleeding ear canals and an enlarging lesion on the right side of her skull. At age six months, she received a Broviac catheter and was treated with chemotherapy. The lesion returned a few months later and was treated with radiation.

Skyler is currently in remission and enjoys a normal life. The disease hasn&squo;t held her back. She runs track, rides horses, takes piano lessons, is active in the Girl Scouts and plays with her little brother, Kesley.

And she spends most of her days visiting others, returning the favor that Gus did for her with his visits to her lap at the Ronald McDonald house.

The more visits she and Faith make, the better they get, she said.

They are both new to the therapy dog world and are working harder each time, Skyler said.

&dquo;Out of a ten, I&squo;d probably give ourselves an 8,&dquo; she said. &dquo;She&squo;s getting used to the training and we&squo;ll get better over time.&dquo;

While they may still have room to grow, Skyler and Faith are bringing happiness to everyone they visit.