Help arrives for Javi

Aldama family sees community support for their young son

Javi Aldama (right), is the three year old son of Chris and Brittany Aldama, formerly of Tama. Javi has been diagnosed with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy. Fundraising efforts have been underway in recent months to help the family purchase and train a therapy dog to assist Javi. A Bernese mountain dog-poodle mix puppy named ReeO (pictured bottom left) joined the Aldama family in January and will be trained over the coming months. Pictured top left is Javi with his mom Brittany. -- Photos provided

For nearly every parent, it often takes a village to raise a child. In recent months, the village has been growing and showing up in unexpected ways for the Aldama family.

Chris and Brittany Aldama, formerly of Tama, are the proud parents of five children, ages three to 17.

When their youngest son Javi turned one, they began to notice he was having difficulty with his eyesight. They came to learn Javi had suffered a stroke in utero and would soon be diagnosed with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a rare and severe form of epilepsy.

Since that time, life for the Aldamas has required adjustment as they worked with doctors at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota to find treatment options that could provide relief for Javi.

Although Javi has developed many of the typical characteristics of a three year old boy; like running, playing and dancing, he struggles with partial blindness. Javi also has autism and is hypersensitive to the world around him.

Tama stock car driver Jay Schmidt put together a custom Funds for Javi decal that will ride with him on the car's tail gate panel during the 2021 stock car season. Schmidt held a fundraiser raffle to for a race car panel with the custom decals in February. Proceeds of the fundraiser were donated to the Aldama family to assist with costs associated with keeping and training a therapy dog.

After undergoing extensive testing, the Aldamas learned that Javi has been experiencing between 50 to sometimes more than 100 seizures per day. His sensitivity to a wide variety of stimuli has also made it challenging for the family when they need to make any changes to their daily care routine and schedule.

Last fall the family had the idea to try a therapy dog for Javi that could provide companionship, help stimulate his mind and emotions and also act as a guide to see things Javi might otherwise struggle to see or sense when a seizure is coming on.

According to the National Service Animal Registry, costs for a service dog can reach well above $15,000 considering how much training is required to prepare them and their owners for service.

The Aldamas opened an online donation channel through GoFundMe in December to help facilitate donations from friends and family looking help make it possible for the family to acquire a dog for Javi.

Donations began to arrive and once the fund got above $4,500, the Aldamas purchased a Bernese mountain dog-poodle mix puppy they named ReeO.

The Aldama family gather for a family photo. Pictured, from bottom left, clockwise: Brittany Aldama, Chris Aldama and their children Abel, Cruz, Alondra, Toni and Javi. -- Photo provided

As ReeO, Javi and the family get to know each other, they’ll be working with local trainer Ashley Bolen to establish a foundation of basic obedience skills before progressing to more specialized service techniques.

Bolen, who lives in Tama, has owned and operated her own dog training business called K9 Trust & Obey in Marshalltown since 2016.

As the Aldamas, who relocated to Newton in 2018, were adapting to life with ReeO, another family in Tama was making preparations to take Javi’s therapy dog fundraising efforts to the next level.

The Schmidt family of Tama have been a racing family for a number of years. John and Virginia Schmidt own and operate J&V NAPA Auto in Tama and are key supporters for their son Jay who has been a stock car driver since 1997. Jay and his wife Michelle got to know the Aldamas before they left for Newton and this winter heard about the challenges Javi has been having and about the effort to connect him with a therapy dog.

At the beginning of each year the Schmidts and the 19J Racing Team have organized events at the Tama Legion Hall to kick off their racing season. In 2013 they started holding fundraiser auctions and raffles at the kickoff events to be able to help families that were in need. Last year’s event was held in support of the Raue family of Toledo that had experienced a medical emergency with their young son Carson.

This year, the Schmidts were unable to hold their regular event at the Legion but wanted to do something to help out the Aldama family.

An online raffle was put together in January for a custom race car panel sporting a special Funds for Javi decal.

The raffle ended up bringing in over $1,500 with the winning ticket going to Jake Simon of Tama. Simon in turn, donated the panel back to the Schmidts to auction off in hopes of leveling up the support to Javi and his family.

The auction for the custom car panel is open now through March 10. Those interested in participating can place a bid online through the 19J Schmidt Racing Facebook group or by contacting the Schmidts at J&V NAPA in Tama. Online donations will be accepted while the auction is open and can be directed to https://www.paypal.me/Mrs19J.

“We’re just overwhelmed and humbled by the support this community has shown us,” Chris Aldama said.

As the Schmidts gear up for race season, the Aldamas will be gearing up for Javi to undergo a major procedure in hopes of controlling his seizures. In mid-March Javi is scheduled to have a corpus callosotomy surgery, which is an open-brain procedure to cut a band of fibers in the brain to prevent seizure signals from traveling between the brain’s two halves.

They’ll begin with multiple trips to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester for COVID-19 testing before the actual procedure can occur. Once the surgery is complete, Javi will spend four to six days in the hospital and then return home to Newton where recovery may take six to eight weeks.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, up to 50% of patients that undergo the procedure no longer experience severe seizures that cause drop attacks. Approximately one in five people are seizure free after surgery.