Our Story

Gracie, Joel, Danea
& Saber Key

Hope you and yours are well. We are Joel & Danea Key from Pineville, Missouri. The founders of Saber Life Foundation. We would like to take a moment to tell you about us and how we got started with our program.

We want you to understand the journey we have been through, not to be sorry for our daughter but we want to share with you our story.

When our daughter Gracie was born she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. The first challenge she faced was having severe jaundice requiring an additional 9 days in the hospital. Once home, there were things we started noticing Gracie did that we, as new parents, thought was just Gracie.

She would scream at bath time. She didn’t want to be held much even as a newborn should. As a new mom, I thought it was just an obtained behavior from being under the blacklight for nine days and only held at feedings. We later found out Gracie was showing signs of having hyper-sensory issues from the first day we brought her home.

Not long after she was 6 weeks old and started in daycare, the special needs occupational therapist started noticing Gracie was not developmentally on target for a 6-weeks-old. When eating from a bottle she was not attaching her mouth to the bottle as other babies. This trend continued, at about 4-5 months old she would “airplane” instead of trying to put her arms under her to brace or push up. By 10 months, she was meeting most milestones. However, she was severely falling behind in so many others.

These were major milestones like sitting up, crawling, holding herself up on her arm while on her tummy, feeding herself solid foods and swallowing.

As Gracie got older we started noticing more and more that she was unable to hold a full cup, keep food on her fork or spoon when feeding herself, she couldn’t use fine motor skills and others. As a parent, it was hard watching her emotionally disconnected with family and friends, she wanted more and more alone time. Gracie would get frustrated and just give up instead of asking for help. She wanted so much to be independent and do things for herself. She was just not able.

This is where the true journey started to unravel itself… On one World changing day, FINALLY, a diagnosis. Essential Tremors. We were still adding medications, stopping medications, and upping dosages of existing medications. Now we knew why.

After so many roller coaster rides finding the right medical team allowed us to focus on Gracie…. Her emotional, mental, and physical well-being! In addition to Essential Tremors, Gracie has now been diagnosed with Autism, PTSD, Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder with tendencies (DMDD), and many legs that presents itself from the Essential Tremor. Those legs consist of Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Restless Leg Syndrome as well as Insomnia.

While she was being properly diagnosed we got our second miracle. Gracie’s science teacher decided to bring her son’s service dog to school for a visit. Almost immediately the bond between Gracie and the dog was noticed. Gracie suddenly had help with her anxiety, depression and just to get through a school day. Then her teacher approached me in the school office one day and said: “My husband and I talked and we decided that we want to give back and give Gracie a puppy to become a service dog.” This was the greatest blessing that anyone could have ever done for our Gracie.

Which brings us to January 2018 Gracie had exhausted all medication that would help with her tremors. My heart sank I was expecting to hear the worst, but could there really be a worse from what we as a family and poor Gracie has already been through all these years? My heart just sank… Waiting for the next answer… As we sat on the edge of our seats the doctor starts off by saying we now are at the option of Brain Surgery. I lost it, that was it.

No, we are NOT having this conversation that’s all the options and this is where we are now… but the only answer was brain surgery and a device called a Deep Brain Stimulator or (DBS). After 3 weeks of debate, we made the decision to move forward. This truly was our last option to help our little girl!!

Gracie’s surgery took at least 7 hours from the time of open to close. What a long wait it was but she came out strong and was ready to go home within 48 hours. Over the next few weeks as Gracie started to heal we noticed significant changes in the way Gracie would talk and present herself.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had heard my little girl laugh. She had been so deep in depression and self-isolation. She had cut out the world. Amazingly, our little sensory gal with an extreme oversized body bubble was now a girl that couldn’t get enough hugs and kisses from her family!!

Clearly our next miracle!! However, the best is coming next!

Finally, after 2 years waiting, life stopped getting in the way and Gracie’s teacher let us know her dog was expecting! We had never seen Gracie’s face light up like it did when she heard the news! Now, with puppies delivered, we are waiting on Saber to get old enough to come home, start his training, and be her LIFE-SABER! Saber’s service dog training was extremely thorough to be the partner that Gracie needed him to be. Training that included keeping her safe and out of harm’s way, being her alert before the triggers start, to be her LIFE-SABER to guide her through the stressors and other known triggers that Gracie experiences every day.

Service dog training is also extremely expensive. Funding was needed to be able to have the Service dog that is properly trained specifically for Gracie’s needs. We started fundraising for 8 months at local events and farmers markets then with our final Benefit Fundraiser at the local elementary where Gracie attended from pre-school to 8th grade before the transition to the high school in August 2019.

We raised enough funds to not only pay the remaining balance owed for Sabers training but to be able to start our own nonprofit SaberLife Foundation to be able to pay it forward helping so many others that we have met along our journey that are in desperate need of a service dog. We never realized the need for service dogs until we started our journey in fundraising.

Which brought us to the here and now March 2020… We have started our nonprofit SaberLife Foundation in hopes that we can reach so many people and pay it forward with what so many did for our daughter, Gracie!

Our long-term goal here at SaberLife Foundation is to be able to not just stop helping those in our state of Missouri but to be able to expand our mission and organization, nationwide! The “No-One left behind Concept” We want to be able to touch the lives of so many people with not just my story and other members of our organization and their testimonies, but to keep creating more and more positive life changing stories to share as we branch out over the nation.

Saber Life Foundation is helping to provide a “Service Dog” to approved and accepted individuals into the Saber-Life Foundation Project. Service Dogs trained cost a MINIMUM of $18,500. Saber Life Foundation is helping to provide to all that are accepted into the Saber-Life Foundation Project a trained Service Dog for $12,500. With everything we have learned in past and present from our own personal experiences, one fact has become clear above all else—The bond is all that matters. From that bond comes the willingness to work for success (though it feels like play) and the ability to handle any difficulties that might arise.

We have also learned that those who worry more about what they want FOR their dogs rather than what they want FROM their dogs end up being most successful under our methodology. In order for the dogs to be able to focus on making you happy and healthy, they have to be happy and healthy themselves.

Please understand that when you meet your dog and you BEGIN to establish that bond. Much of the necessary work will have to be done after you get home. You and your dog will not be at your best as a team until you have been together for six months or more. Great partnerships require two components— an immediate spark upon meeting and slow strengthening over time as you come to understand one another more clearly. We will help you recognize the spark and give you the tools needed to strengthen the bond but the remainder is up to you.

We look forward to reviewing your application!!

Thank you!
Joel & Danea Key
Founders of Saber Life Foundation

**NOTE: SaberLife Foundation reserves the right at any point in the process and at our sole discretion to not place a service dog if we feel the placement would not be beneficial. If you have any questions, please contact Danea Key by phone at (417)-365-6917.

**If you are still interested in applying, please fill out all required fields in the Service Dog Application. The form will need to be emailed directly to our Recipient Coordinator at saberlifefoundation@gmail.com.