West Haven woman receives a special helper following injury that left her paralyzed

Gabby Murillo has a special service dog to help her after a life-changing injury. Here's her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1099175706946139
Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 11:04 AM EST
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WEST HAVEN, CT (WFSB) - A woman from West Haven who was left a quadriplegic after a speeding car rear-ended her in Florida 3 and a half years ago faces many challenges.

Gabby Murillo, 25, requires constant care, but she said a service dog is giving her new hope.

In June 2019, Murillo walked out of her West Haven home and headed to Florida to her dorm where the then 22-year-old was to attend Disney University. It was an exciting time for a girl who dreamed her entire life to work for Disney.

Three weeks later, Murillo’s life changed in an instant.  Riding in a car, she was rear-ended by a driver who was going 95 mph. The car flattened like a pancake and Murillo’s spine was severely damaged. She was left paralyzed from the shoulders down.

“I would say probably a couple of days after, I came to and I was like ‘what’s going on?’ But I didn’t really realize it was like not forever, but a forever-type thing. ‘It’s like okay, this is how your life is now,’” Murrillo told Channel 3.

Murillo underwent surgeries and countless hours of occupational therapy. Treatments included learning how to use a stylus in her mouth so she could type on a phone.

Now, 3 and a half years later 25 years old, Murillo uses a wheelchair. She lives with her parents at their West Haven home. She is the youngest of four sisters and misses her life before the accident.

“Life is completely different from what it used to be,” she said. “I was very active, just barely home because I was always working and now, I’m always home. Not working. I’m not as active as I used to be.”

Murillo said she longed for some level of independence and found a way to get it. She raised enough money on her Facebook page to get a highly specialized service dog.

“A service dog is going to help me tremendously,” she said. “I always usually have someone with me and I’m hoping to be by myself, so if I get stuck in my room, he can open the door and I can go in another room.”

Channel 3 visited ECAD in Winchester. ECAD is a canine education facility that specializes in training dogs to work with people who have disabilities. For the first time, Murillo met her service dog Bravo.

She said it was love at first sight.

“I thought that he was a beautiful dog,” Murillo said. “I knew that he was going to change my life.”

Murillo and Bravo, a 22-month-old golden retriever lab mix, separately learned some 80 commands. Now, they must learn to work together.

She will spend two weeks in Winchester learning how to work with Bravo. The training started immediately for Bravo to learn to put Gabby’s stylus in her mouth if she drops it.

“I tell him ‘Get it. Get it. Bring it. Bring it. Yes, good boy,’” Murillo said.

Bravo and Murillo had some practice to do, but ECAD’s program director, Lu Picard was confident they would be a great team.

“He knows what to do,” Picard said. “Now, she just has to learn the words and the tone of voice to get him to do it.”

Finally, it was graduation day. Murillo and Bravo completed their training and were ready to go home together.

Murillo’s parents sat proudly in the audience. They said they were happy to see their daughter with a big smile on her face.

“Always smiling after everything this child has been through,” said Amanda Murillo, Gabby Murillo’s mother. “I can’t be any prouder to call her my daughter.”

Gabby Murillo and Bravo are now home. It’s been a couple of weeks and Bravo continues to master his commands. If Murillo’s foot slips from the pedestal, Bravo can put it back in place.

Murillo said she is feeling confident and that the two have been settling in.

“Bravo is definitely changing my life so far,” she said. “He’s made me so happy because we have our days and I love cuddling him and we cuddle every night and in the morning. He’s just the best.”

With Bravo at her side, Murillo said she is doing the things she enjoys. She has a business called Brush and Jaw where she creates paintings and ornaments using her mouth. While life is not as she had expected, Murillo said she is positive and always looking to the future.

“It’s better to be hopeful and just think positive instead of like being ‘Ugh,’ so negative about the situation,” she said. “Like, staying in bed all day. Like get up and hang out and see where the day takes you. What really keeps me going as well would probably be my friends, my family and all the strangers and everyone who follows me on my recovery page on Facebook. They will message me, comment on my posts that I post and it’s very heartwarming and keeps me even more positive that these people are inspired by me.”

Murillo and Bravo have formed a bond that will help them navigate life together.

Take a look at her Facebook page, Gabby Murillo’s Road to Recovery, here.