9-year-old Maine girl recovering from debilitating illness writes, illustrates book about dogs’ Aquaboggan adventure

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NEW GLOUCESTER — When Fat Dog gets stuck at the bottom of the water slide, Tucker, Baxter, Kezar and Dot slide one, two, three, four, into a big mess one afternoon at Aquaboggan.

Only the ingenuity of firemen — who pour oil around the pudgy pooch’s behind to help him slip through the slide — saves the day in “Dogs Take Over Aquaboggan,” written and illustrated by 9-year-old Ellie Schlichting.

Illustrating the story was difficult, Ellie said recently, sitting under her family’s Christmas tree in New Gloucester, but writing the story was much harder.

Neither, though, tested the shy, smiling girl as much as recovering from a devastating neurological illness that struck — seemingly overnight — just more than a year ago.

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Slowly, though, Ellie is “getting it back” — and on Tuesday afternoon, she headed to the Coastal Humane Society in Brunswick to present the animal shelter’s staff with a copy of her book and $100 she earned selling it to family and friends.

When Ellie started shaking and spiked a fever one night in mid-October 2013, her parents, Pam and Doug Schlichting, grew concerned — especially after she started “acting funny,” her father said.

When Ellie’s parents detected sudden changes in her personality, they headed to the pediatrician. Soon Ellie was at a Portland neurologist, undergoing an MRI and a spinal tap. She ended up being treated at a Boston hospital for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections, or PANDAS.

Almost overnight, Ellie lost most of her fine motor skills. She also began exhibiting other classic neurological symptoms of the disorder. No longer able to write stories or play with the rabbits, chickens and other animals outside the family’s country home, she struggled to walk across the floor for fear of stepping on the lines between the tiles.

As part of her therapy, Ellie began working with Karyn Kurland of STARS Learning Cooperative, an organization that provides individualized educational support services for children. Kurland encouraged Ellie to write — and to find a project that would benefit the animals she loves.

Ellie wrote about cats and bunnies, turkeys and dogs, her mom said. Eventually, she focused her efforts on her story, “Dogs Take Over Aquaboggan.”

The pack escapes from their owners and trots to Saco, spending the afternoon sliding, swimming and stealing mini-golf balls at the water park.

They even climb “the big bubble” — Ellie’s favorite activity when she visits the park with her family.

Excited about her book — and about the way it exemplified Ellie’s recovery — family and friends bought copies, earning the 9-year-old author $100. On Tuesday, she was expected to donate the funds to the Coastal Humane Society, “so the dogs can have toys,” she said.

Ellie’s not quite back to writing poetry yet, but she hopes to pen pieces about the geese and ducks that frequent the pond behind their house.

Ongoing treatment has “made a huge difference,” her father said. Still, “she’s just getting a lot of it back. It’s all been her, though. It was all her work. She’s come a long, long, long way.”

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