Thursday, August 27 , 2015, 7:27 pm | Fair 73.0º




After Debilitating Diving Accident, Santa Maria Woman Seeks Canine Companion to Aid Recovery

Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter joins cause to find four-legged friend for house-bound woman with brain, neurological injuries

Since a diving accident in Indonesia took a toll on Emese Dunai’s health and state of mind, she’s been confined to her Santa Maria home and a motorized scooter. Now she’s on a quest for a service dog to help her cope. “You have to get up,” Dunai says. “You have to take them for a walk. More important for me is having a best friend. It would be great to have a dog at my side. I get so tired so easily.”

Since a diving accident in Indonesia took a toll on Emese Dunai’s health and state of mind, she’s been confined to her Santa Maria home and a motorized scooter. Now she’s on a quest for a service dog to help her cope. “You have to get up,” Dunai says. “You have to take them for a walk. More important for me is having a best friend. It would be great to have a dog at my side. I get so tired so easily.”  (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

By Gina Potthoff, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @ginapotthoff |

Emese Dunai has never been one to cower at adventure or any activity that took her beyond a couch to the beloved outdoors.

Two years ago, the now 32-year-old was loving her friends, looking for a change, and about to embark on a backpacking trip of a lifetime around the world.

It was on a leg of that trip in Indonesia that a seemingly natural, ill-fated decision to scuba dive turned Dunai’s life into a nightmare. An accident during the dive deprived her brain of oxygen and set in motion a series of debilitating health conditions.

Petite and Hungarian born, Dunai now lives in Santa Maria with constant pain. She cannot walk because her left foot has extended downward below the heel, a product of the progressive dystonia and secondary Parkinson’s disease that manifested from the traumatic brain injury she experienced.

Once a former occupational therapist who rarely spent time indoors, Dunai has been confined since August to a home she shares with two older gentlemen. She has no other friends or family to help, so she gets around by using a 19-inch-wide scooter and taking the bus.

Moved by Dunai’s story, the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter has sent out a plea on her behalf to help locate a service dog as her helper and constant companion.

“It’s very scary,” Dunai said last week of her progressing health issues. “I’m in constant pain. I was very, super active. This is killer. For medical reasons, for social reasons, for sanity reasons, I need to get out of this house.”

Dunai is anxious to find an already-trained or in-training service dog before she relocates in January to either the Bay Area or Portland, where she was living at the time of her accident.

Although she is physically disabled, the diseases that have attacked her brain did not have an impact on Dunai’s cognitive skills. Her speech has been partially affected by the Parkinson’s and a lack of proper endorphins in her brain has pushed her into mind-numbing depression.

In spite of everything, Dunai is confident she will walk again — which might be possible through surgery to revert her left foot to its normal state.

That’s why Dunai is considering a move closer to UC San Francisco to be near a hospital with the best care. When she is healthy again, she hopes to become a life coach to share her painful story.

“It’s a waste of a good life,” she said, referring to staying indoors alone watching TV. “I love nature. My quality of life has been impacted. I really hope I can start walking again.”

Dunai’s health insurance would not cover the surgery she needs, which is why she’s created an online account here for those who wish to donate for expenses.

She hopes that someone will hear her plea for a dog and unite her with a canine of similar compassion to bring her spirits above her depression.

“I grew up with dogs,” Dunai said. “You have to get up. You have to take them for a walk. More important for me is having a best friend. It would be great to have a dog at my side. I get so tired so easily.”

She said anyone with a tip on a dog can contact her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The county dog shelter asks that any dog not have any obvious signs of a prey drive, dog aggressiveness, or over-protectiveness.

Although Dunai is used to taking care of herself, she said having a helpful best friend would be a good change.

“They can be with you everywhere,” she said. “I love all animals. They just love you no matter what.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.




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