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Fundraiser hopes to collect Penny

Alissa Widman Neese • Apr 14, 2014 at 10:13 AM

To most 6-year-olds, an ideal diet likely includes plenty of favorites: peanut butter and jelly, milk, french fries, pizza, pasta, grilled cheese and more.

But for one local boy, sampling such delicacies is only a dream.

Even touching traces of many foods could be deadly.

Cameron DuFresne, 6, was born with eosinophilic esophagitis, a rare, severe allergy to almost every type of food, and particularly dairy products.

Its flare-ups cause dangerous swelling and leave him unable to breathe.

After many close calls, Cameron was forced into homeschooling in November. He’s considered homebound.

His only hope of returning to normalcy: a specially trained therapy dog named Penny.    

Angel Service Dogs, a Colorado-based nonprofit organization, will teach the young Golden Retriever to detect nearby dairy products, provided the family can collect enough donations for the cause.

Want to go?

•WHAT: Spaghetti dinner fundraiser for Cameron DuFresne

•WHEN: 4-7 p.m. Sunday

•WHERE: Berardi’s Family Kitchen, 1019 W. Perkins Ave., Sandusky

•COST: $10 adults, $4 children, with all proceeds benefiting Cameron’s fund for a therapy dog


Click here to donate online.


To donate in person, drop off checks at Berardi's Family Kitchen, 1019 W. Perkins Ave., Sandusky; Coffee Station, 29 E. Church St., Milan; Naturally Country, 845 Lais Road, Norwalk; and Sheri's Coffee House, 27 Whittlesey Ave., Norwalk.


“This would open up a whole new world for him,” said Lesilee DuFresne, Cameron’s mother.

As of Saturday, the family had collected almost $9,000 — almost half of the $20,000 required for Penny’s training.

If they reach their goal by May 1, they can have Penny as soon as she’s trained this summer.

If they fall short, the earliest Cameron could receive a dog is next year.

Berardi’s Family Kitchen has coordinated the family’s first local fundraiser Sunday. The restaurant will host a spaghetti dinner from 4 to 7 p.m., and all proceeds from meal tickets and silent auctions will benefit the DuFresne family.

The family, although native to Huron, lives in Colorado Springs for most of the year.

They’re in town for the benefit and will return to be with family during summer months, after Cameron’s father, who is in the military, is deployed overseas.

“Having Penny would really ease his mind, so he can focus on his mission and not worry about home” Lesliee said of her husband, Michael.

Home is Cameron’s “safe haven,” the only place he said he’s confident is dairy-free. He spends 20 hours a day hooked up to a feeding tube of rice milk and vitamins, the only food his eosinophilic esophagitis allows him to keep down.

Before his parents found the special formula, Cameron dropped more than 20 pounds, or nearly half his weight at the time.

He has almost returned to his normal size — and normal energy, too.

His list of favorite things is lengthy, but some highlights include playing outside, completing crafts and fixing things in the garage with his father, he said.

On Tuesday, he chased his sister, Paislee, 3, across his grandmother’s yard with a Super Soaker, while his brother Bradye, 1, giggled nearby.

“One of the doctors described it perfectly: He’s the healthiest sick kid you’ll ever meet,” Lesilee said. “To everyone else, he looks like any other 6-year-old”

But without a therapy dog to alert him to dangerous environments, Cameron can’t do many things most children do. Everyday public places, such as grocery stores, libraries and restaurants are off-limits, as well as birthday parties and other foodcentered special events.

Cameron fondly recounts the first day he met Penny at an Angel Service Dogs event, where she greeted him with loving, wet doggy kisses.

“I said, ‘This is the one’” Cameron recalled with a wide smile.

His school, Mountain Song Community School in Colorado Springs, has already OK’d Penny’s arrival.

The only obstacle is the cash required for her training.

“So many families take for granted the places their kids can go, or the things they can do,” Lesilee said. “But right now we have to outweigh the benefits and risks, and the health risks are too great. A therapy dog would let him return to school and give him the quality of life he deserves”

To keep up-to-date with the DuFresne family’s effort, go to the “Penny for Cameron” Facebook page.

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