My daughter Mei Mei was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2004 when she was 6 years old. She had always wanted a dog so it seemed like a harmonic convergence when we learned about the Dogs for Diabetics program. The training process was long, made perhaps even longer with the comings and goings of different but all equally loveable Labrador and Golden Retrievers who would come to class to train with the clients. After more than a year, my daughter’s perseverance paid off and D4D teamed her with Colton, a two year old yellow male Labrador/Golden Retriever mix. In the years following placement, Mei Mei and Colton have learned each other’s habits, foibles, and moods. Along with love came trust – trust that when your dog alerts, you need to check your blood sugar.
One of my favorite alert stories (and there are many) happened on a summer Friday night. The entire family had been at a friend’s house for our usual Friday dinner potluck (Mei Mei, her brother Nick, and many of their friends were on swim team together and the parents would rotate houses for the dinner potluck on Friday after the 5:00 pm evening practice). When I had checked on the kids during the evening, they were invariably sitting on couches in the downstairs rec room and playing video games. When we got home that evening and got ready for bed, I checked Mei Mei’s blood sugar. She was in the low 100’s – safe for some adult type 1 diabetics but a bit lower than I liked when sending my 11 year old to bed.I gave her a hot chocolate and insulin to cover about half of the carbs in the snack. It was around 11 pm and everyone went off to bed.
About one hour later, I heard the familiar jangle of Colton’s dog tags as he got off her bed and came into my room. I was half asleep and thinking “Really? She just had a snack.” Colton will alert on Mei Mei’s highs as well as her lows and I thought that he was telling me that her blood sugar was rising faster than it should. I told him that Mei Mei was fine and to go back to bed but he kept whining. What could I do? I got up and grabbed the check kit, convinced that I would see a rising blood sugar due to the extra carbs that I hadn’t covered with insulin. What did I get? The meter reading was in the 90’s.
I was taken aback by the drop in blood sugar because she would normally have been in at least the mid to high 100’s after the hot chocolate snack. I grabbed a juice (about 20 grams) and Mei Mei sipped it through a straw without waking up. I waited 15 minutes and checked again. The next reading was 65. I grabbed another juice – this time waking my daughter up. We waited together another 10 minutes before I checked again – high 50’s. I gave her a third juice and started looking for the glucagon. Fortunately, Mei Mei’s blood sugar started rising slowly after the third juice. After two hours and multiple blood checks, her blood sugar had risen to the mid 100’s and leveled out. By this time, Mei Mei and Colton had fallen asleep again but I was shaken by what could have happened.
Normally, either I or her father would have checked Mei Mei in the middle of the night around 2:00 am or 3:00 am. If Colton hadn’t come to get me around midnight, I’m not sure how low she would have gone given how fast her blood sugar was dropping. As parents, we do our best to manage our type one children’s blood sugars but we are not perfect. We count carbs, we measure insulin, and we take into account sports and stresses but life happens. And when life happens, we now have Colton to help keep an eye on Mei Mei. She’s 14 now and a freshman in high school, living her life with her four legged partner and best friend by her side. I thank Canine Companions for Independence for donating Colton to D4D and I thank D4D for training Colton and giving him to Mei Mei. – a gift of love and life