Like her service dog Murphy, Krystyna Thomas is extraordinary. She and her family, which includes husband Jeff and their two children, have moved from a bustling city to an 80-acre, self-sustaining farm in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Krystyna and Jeff homeschool the kids, grow their own vegetables, raise chickens and pigs for food, and live green. While they currently rely on outside sources for some of their food, they hope to change this in the next year.
They added a beehive to the farm this spring and hope to preserve food from farming and foraging to get them through next winter. On top of that, she maintains a regular blog she calls “Spring Mountain Living.” She is also an accomplished cook and has created a recipe for faux peanut butter spread, which has become a family favorite, even though there are no peanut allergies in her family. We’ve included the recipe at the end of her story.
Krystyna does all of this while living with chronic illness and pain resulting from brain surgery in 2009 to remove a colloid cyst in her right frontal lobe. After the surgery, Krystyna had a very long road to recovery. “After many months of recovering,” she says, “I still wasn’t able to reach any measurable level of independence. Things like going to the bathroom on my own or getting up from a seated position on the floor without help were impossible. I even had difficulty walking on my own.”
To this very day she suffers seizures, and she credits her current independence to her best friend, a yellow Labrador mix named Murphy.
Before she met Murphy, all Krystyna knew about service dogs was that blind people used them. “That about sums it up!” she says. “I had very little information, and I’ve learned that I’m not alone. Unless I am wearing sunglasses, nearly every new person I come in contact with assumes that I am training Murphy for someone else. If I’m wearing sunglasses, people tend to assume that I’m blind.”
Murphy, however, has become an important fixture in Krystyna’s life, particularly when warning her she’s about to experience a seizure. “He’s warned me before quite a few seizures, which helps me so that I can have a chance to get to a safe place or lay down,” she says. “He tends to turn into a really needy and anxious dog, which makes some people assume that he just wants attention. But I’ve learned that this is my cue to expect a seizure to occur.”
In many ways, Murphy has become a caregiver to Krystyna, always vigilant and on guard whether she’s in bed or working in the barn. He follows her everywhere and, she says, “You can generally find him somewhere by my feet if I’m sitting or on my left side when I walk. The only time he isn’t with me is when he’s taking a potty break or when I’m in the hospital for extended periods, and my husband brings him home so he can have some down time.”
Krystyna calls Murphy’s presence in her world, “life-altering,” and she would recommend that anyone who may benefit to look into obtaining a service dog. She points out that while the animals can be costly, there are organizations that will help with costs and train the animals for free, and she can’t even sum up the benefits of having Murphy in her life.
“After having him in my life all these years,” she says, “life without him just wouldn’t be life!”
Thanks, Krystyna, for sharing your story with us! Here, as promised, is Krystyna’s yummy recipe, which may work well for people with peanut allergies, because tahini is made with sesame seeds.
SML’s Faux Peanut Butter Spread
1 c tahini
1/3 c (or more to taste) raw honey
Sea salt (to taste)
Mix ingredients together and enjoy! I suggest using organic ingredients whenever possible. Be sure to sample the spread as you mix it. This will help you decide on the right amount of sea salt (the salt cuts the bitterness of the tahini).