George Strait, if you’re reading this article, Amy Fey of Schertz, Texas, would love to meet you.
While meeting the country music legend might be Amy’s dream come true, it would be more life changing for Mr. Strait to meet Amy…she radiates that much joy, energy, positivity and hope. And if he is lucky enough to meet her, he’ll have the added bonus of making the acquaintance of Neo, Amy’s furry friend who has made such a dramatic impact on her life.
Her Greatest Challenge: Rheumatoid Arthritis
Diagnosed with severe Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) at 18 months, Amy has the disease in every joint. Since her diagnosis when just a toddler, Amy has never known a day without pain. During our interview Amy said, “It hurts holding the phone to talk to you, but don’t feel sorry for me…I’m grateful for the arthritis, and that I’m so different. I know that people who are in my life love me for me. The RA makes me who I am.”
In her 33 years, Amy has had six total hip and total knee replacements, in addition to other reconstructive and reparative surgeries. Dr. Uwe Pontius, her orthopedic surgeon for the past 16 years, has done each operation, becoming a good friend in the process. “He’s fixed me up and put me back together so many times…I owe him so much…he’s like family to me,” Amy says. Her most recent surgery was for a broken femur. “RA weakens your bones, and the combination of the disease and the treatments for the disease has caused my bones to deteriorate even more.”
Rheumatoid arthritis causes a spectrum of symptoms from minor to major. Amy’s are severe. “I have the disease in every joint, so any movement is painful for me. I am stiff every morning. I can’t hop out of bed and get ready for work like a person without the disease. On a good day, it takes me an hour to get out of bed, get to the bathroom and brush my teeth. One hour. And we’re not talking full hair and make-up…just the basics that most people can do in five minutes.”
Amy has other complications from RA: she has become blind in her left eye and has severe glaucoma in both. Amy explains, “Most people don’t know that RA causes vision problems. I also have cataracts and get debilitating migraines that leave me dizzy and sick for days. Whenever the pressure in the atmosphere changes, I will get a horrific migraine. Then, once the storm comes and passes, the migraine is gone. Extreme heat, extreme cold and any kind of stress also cause the RA to flare.”
Beautiful inside and out, Amy’s smile lights up a room and her energy is contagious. Throughout our interviews (we had several, in between her hospitalizations) she is enthusiastic and fun: you’d never know the pain and challenges she faces each day. Amy’s the kind of person you meet for coffee at 10 am and all of a sudden, it’s time for dinner.
A second grade teacher who has won several teaching awards, including Teacher of the Year in her district, Amy teaches her young students more than the curriculum. She exemplifies how to overcome challenges and pushes them to live without limits. Now battling a new diagnosis: leukemia, Amy remains upbeat and full of faith. She intends to overcome, and with her fighting spirit, cancer doesn’t stand a chance.
“Some of my students will say to me, ‘Miss Fey, I can’t learn it. I can’t do that. It’s too hard.’ I them that they need to add an R-Y to C-A-N-T turning I can’t into I can try.
“It’s amazing how the addition of those two letters give my students a whole new perspective. I encourage them to try, and then there’s no limits to what you can do.”
Amy is always ready to try something new, with the expectation that she will be successful. Her late grandma, also a huge George Strait fan, never treated her any differently when she was a child. “My grandma refused to let my arthritis, the daily pain and the physical limitations stop me. She told me that even though I had RA, I could still do anything I wanted. That became the basis for how I live my life.”
“My grandma and I were supposed to go to a George Strait concert together, but heaven called her before we got the chance. I saw him play in San Antonio not even a year later. It was bittersweet, being there without her, but I know my grandma was happy I was there.”
Later this summer Amy is getting married, but for now she lives independently, a goal she set for herself and reached, with the help of a very special gentleman named Neo.
Her Greatest Gift: The Practical and Emotional Support of a Service Dog
Neo, a 3-year-old Shepherd/Beagle mix, is the greatest gift Amy has ever received. He’s changed her life more than anyone or anything. “When I first met Neo, we clicked right away. People said they had never seen a dog as attached to a person as Neo was to me. When our meet and greet time was over, and the trainers led Neo away, I was told he started crying. Neo just wanted to stay with me.” Amy and Neo have been inseparable ever since.
Amy laughs when talking about her first date with Taylor, now her fiancé. “I told him, when we met, ‘If Neo doesn’t like you, this isn’t going to work out.’ And fortunately for Taylor, he and Neo hit it off right away.”
“The name, Neo, means gift, and Neo really is the greatest gift I have ever received. Neo retrieves things, opens doors and drawers with tugs, helps get my arms out of sleeves and unzips my jackets. He also stays by my side when I am not using a power wheelchair or manual chair…having him by my side makes me more confident in my ability to walk and keep my balance.”
It is the things that he isn’t trained to do that have made the biggest difference in Amy’s life, and the lives of so many of the others who have received a dog from Service Dogs, Inc., of Dripping Springs, Texas.
“When you have a disability, people tend to look at you differently, treat you a little differently. Sometimes people have pointed at me and laughed at the way I walk…kind of like a penguin.”
“Neo has given me confidence, for many reasons, but in public, people’s attention goes immediately to him and not me. People are more accepting of me, now that I have Neo, and that makes me feel more secure when I am out in public. Strangers ask about him, about service dogs, and I get to educate them and it’s a pleasant conversation, better than me explaining why I walk the way I do.”
Service Dogs, Inc. Changes Lives, One Dog at a Time
Amy says that Service Dogs Inc. has given Amy more than she could ever ask for or ever repay…Neo, lifelong friends from her training classes and independence.
“I don’t think people realize just how much SDI does for people. Service Dogs, Inc. is just the most amazing organization. By giving a service dog to people who are living with disabilities they are changing lives…saving lives.”
“It’s more than SDI providing people with a well-trained service dog. The staff at SDI and the people in your training classes become your friends, your support. The SDI experience gives you confidence, joy…this amazing life…the greatest gifts.”
When Amy walks down the aisle in a few weeks, Neo, wearing a special bow tie will be by her side, along with her parents and Dr. Pontius. She is looking forward to starting a new life with Taylor and has great plans for her future.
Amy would like to write a picture book to introduce children to service dogs. (Spoiler alert: the main character’s name might be Neo!) Writing other children’s books may also be on the horizon, and possibly a book for teachers. Amy says there are so many things they don’t tell you in student teaching!
Epic adventures top Amy’s to-do list. For starters, she wants to go skydiving! (If I were Amy, I’d put my energy into meeting George Strait!) But she’s fearless and fun and lives more fully than people with far fewer obstacles in their way. That’s what makes her special. Neo may be Amy’s greatest gift, but knowing Amy is a gift for everyone else!