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Service dog to guard toddler’s blood sugar

Posted on Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 4:04 pm

By John Coffelt,

Staff Writer

For many diabetics blood sugar is hard to keep a handle on; when the patient is two years old, keeping it stable is a fulltime battle.

For local family, Adam and Amie Green, whose oldest daughter, Layla, has Type 1 diabetes, this means fingerpicks about 12 times throughout the day.

Sitting on her palate watching Disney TV, the 23-month-old Layla gives little indication that her sugar has dropped.

A small irritable spell indicates it’s time for another sugar check. The check reveals that her sugar count is 309, well out of the 100–200 range that the doctors recommend for a patient so young.

Sometimes it drops so low that Amie has had to call for an ambulance.

In order to help keep watch on these fluctuations of their 23-month-old daughter, the Greens are in the process of getting a diabetic alert service dog that will notify them if Layla’s blood sugar levels fall outside normal levels.

“With her being so little it’s hard for her to communicate with us if she’s not feeling well,” Amie said.

The problem is that being newly diagnosed and so young Layla’s levels can fluctuate dramatically with few warnings.

The service dog will be trained to sniff out minute fluctuations in Layla’s sugar levels and alert her parents (and later her) to changes.

Layla has Type 1 diabetes, meaning that her body’s immune system has destroyed the pancreatic cells that make the hormone insulin that regulates blood sugar.

“Every now and then there’s a wildcard, and she’ll wake up and her sugar will be low,” Adam said.

The Greens heard of the dogs through word of mouth.

“I had been told by a friend about a diabetic alert dog. We did some research…and decided that that would be good for Layla because of her age,” Amie said.

The dog will warn not just of the levels but also too rapid changes.

And the dog will be able to retrieve juice boxes, an emergency Glucagon syringe or even dial 911on a specially designed device that has a prerecorded message for the operator.

The family is currently on a waiting list, waiting for a dog to be weaned and partially trained.

As Layla’s dog matures it will finish by training for the toddler’s specific scent variations.

A trainer will stay with the family to fine tune the dog’s alerts.

“The dog’s not fully trained when you get it. It will train specifically to her,” Amie said. “We can pinpoint exactly where we want [it to alert]. Every number has a smell.”

According to Warren Retrievers, the company who trains the dogs through its nonprofit wing, Guardian Angels the animals are timelier and thus more accurate than other testing methods.

“In studies dogs have been shown to scent parts per trillion. Diabetics may sleep right through a monitor’s alarm, whereas a trained diabetic alert dog is persistent to the point where [it] will ‘go get’ another member of the household if the diabetic does not respond,” according to Warren Retrievers information.

The way the Greens understand it, people smell sweeter or more acrid as their blood sugar changes.

While doing research on the dogs, the Greens were connected told of a family who’s son, Nathaniel, also has an alert dog.

During a playdate at Chucky Cheese’s Pizza, Nathaniel’s dog came over to Layla and indicated high.

Amie said that when she checked Layla’s sugar, it was off as the dog had indicated.

Adam, a nurse by profession, said that the weight of similar testimonials back the dogs, even if clinical studies haven’t yet confirmed the validity of the alert program.

The Greens said that Guardian Angels doesn’t actually charge for the dog. Instead the nonprofit has a fundraising system in place to offset the cost of breeding and training the dog, which will come to about $25,000.

“We don’t actually pay for the dog,” Amie said. “We’re contracted out to fundraise for the nonprofit organization. That helps keep their facilities up and train the dogs.”

The Greens have collected $4,000 so far. They have three years to raise the money.

Layla will have a dog-themed birthday/fundraiser 12-2:30 p.m. Dec. 8 at the Ada Wright Center. The public is invited, but donations are not required.

“We don’t want people to feel like they’re forced [to donate]. What is important to us is to raise awareness of Type 1 diabetes,” Amie said.

She said that many of the people confuse Type 1 with later onset Type 2 diabetes, wrongly thinking that Layla’s condition can be controlled with diet and eventually will be cured.

“This is an incurable disease. The rest of her life is will like this,” Amie said.

To survive, Layla requires short acting injections with each meal (like her pancreas is supposed to do  during a meal). A longer lasting injection that crystallizes in her fat cells to release insulin all day keeps her levels constant.

Layla is currently practicing wearing an insulin pump.

The pump will give more precise doses to fine tune Layla’s sugar, but her “wildcard” changes still require regular tests. Amie hopes that the dog will cut back the frequency of the testing, and that her daughter will not have to wake each night at 2 a.m. for one.

Donations can also be made on the Greens’ behalf through Guardian Angels website,