Diabetes Dog: Smelling Danger
Jamie Langham wants a dog. But not just any dog. She wants a Diabetic Alert Dog – a dog that could save her life.
Jamie was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes shortly after her 16th birthday, and just before starting her junior year at Jenks High School.
“I was constantly exhausted,” Jamie said. “I was going to bed early and sleeping until noon. Then I’d crawl to the kitchen for a snack, then go back to sleep on the couch and stay asleep until my mom got home from work at 5 p.m. I lost 30 pounds in one month.”
“I know teenagers sleep a lot,” said Jamie’s mother, Sylvia Langham, “but she wasn’t eating, and she was drinking a lot of water.”
The family’s physician diagnosed Jamie and referred her to a diabetes specialist and a dietician.
“At first I didn’t know what it was. Nobody in my family has type 1 diabetes.” When the reality of her new life with finger pricks, insulin shots, and food restrictions began to sink in, Jamie’s thought was, “Why me?”
“It was like the end of the world for us for awhile,” Sylvia said.
After her diagnosis, Jamie and her mother did a complete lifestyle change. But no matter how careful a diabetic is, frightening spikes and drops in blood sugar remain a constant threat.
Over the next few years, Jamie finished high school and attended college, becoming completely independent in her diabetes care: testing her blood, giving herself shots, watching her diet. Sylvia was able to step back. One evening, after Jamie began working full time as a surgical technologist at St. John Medical Center, they even discussed Jamie’s moving into her own apartment. However, the events of the next few hours would change all that.
Early the next morning Sylvia noticed that Jamie’s alarm was going off and that Jamie wasn’t responding. When Sylvia entered Jamie’s room, she knew something was very wrong.
“She looked up at me, but I could tell she wasn’t seeing me. Her eyes were completely dilated. She tried to speak, but couldn’t. When I touched her shoulder she began making jerking movements. It was one of those big-time panic moments!” Sylvia said. “I’ve never been so scared in my life.”
Sylvia called 911 and soon Jamie’s bedroom was full of first responders.
“I woke up to a paramedic on my bed with one foot on each side of me holding my arms down,” Jamie said. “His partner was trying to get a blood sample. When your blood sugar is out of whack, you get very emotional and I started bawling. I remember someone said to me, ‘You are waking up. You are fine.’”
What Jamie had experienced was a severe blood sugar drop in her sleep. Without treatment low blood sugar can lead to coma and even death. When first diagnosed, diabetics can usually feel when their blood sugar is dropping and immediately eat a snack to stabilize it. But with time, many lose this ability. If Jamie had been alone in an apartment she very likely would have died. Suddenly, living independently seemed a distant dream.
Then Jamie found out about Diabetic Alert Dogs, known as D.A.D.s., and hope returned. “These dogs can sense a blood sugar change 15 minutes before we can feel it,” Jamie said. “They alert you if your blood sugar drops below 80 or rises above 180.” (Chronic high blood sugar is less of an immediate threat, but does serious long-term damage to the body leading to such things as blindness, kidney failure, amputations, and strokes.)
After much research, Jamie and Sylvia decided to purchase a dog from Drey’s Alert Dogs in Jasper, Texas. This past May they traveled to Drey’s to learn more about the dogs. During the visit, a dog in training kept edging closer to Jamie and staring at her. “Then he put his paw on my foot,” Jamie said. The woman leading the tour said, “Go test your blood sugar. He just alerted you.”
Jamie and Sylvia were sold! Jamie picked out a black Labrador puppy-in-training she named Levi. Jamie and Sylvia are currently working to raise the money they need to bring Levi home.
At $15,000, Diabetic Alert Dogs are not cheap, and insurance doesn’t cover the cost. But for Sylvia the expense is well worth it.
“What’s her life worth?” Sylvia asked. “At night, when she is asleep, that dog will wake her up if her sugars get too high or too low, and I won’t have to worry like I do now. The dog will give her the ability to move out on her own, and I really want her to have that next part of her life.”
“Levi will help me stabilize my blood sugar and take away my fear of not waking up,” Jamie said. “He will help me get my independence back.”
Most individuals who need a Diabetic Alert Dog gain funds to purchase their dogs through fundraising efforts. For more information about Jamie’s fundraising efforts visit: youcaring.com/Jamie-Levi.
Type 1 Diabetes: Signs and Symptoms
Knowing the warning signs for type 1 diabetes could save a life. Symptoms may occur suddenly and include:
- Extreme thirst
- Frequent urination
- Sudden vision changes
- Fruity, sweet, or wine-like odor on breath
- Increased appetite
- Sudden weight loss
- Dry, flaky skin
- Drowsiness, lethargy
- Heavy, labored breathing
- Stupor, unconsciousness
If you or someone you love exhibits one or more of these symptoms, call a doctor immediately.