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The Joslin 50 Year Medal

IMG_0301“Joslin Diabetes Center established this award in 1970 to recognize the remarkable achievement of those individuals who have lived with insulin-dependent diabetes for fifty years or more.  We now extend this tribute to you for your conscientious and courageous attention to the many difficult details involved in successfully living with diabetes over these any years.”

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This is the medal that the Joslin Diabetes Center offers to acknowledge those who have lived with diabetes for 50 years. I had never seen one before this one arrived in the mail for me.

After years of consternation, internal bickering, and some outside encouragement, I finally decided to apply.*  It was incredibly difficult to allow myself to ask for acknowledgement for living with diabetes because I’ve never known any other way other way of being.  Diabetes is part of who I am, and asking for acknowledgement is not.

Yet I decided, “Why Not?”  Diabetes is integral to who I am, and an essential piece of my life story.  (It is also one that I’ve been asked to give a presentation about at an upcoming conference.)  Despite all its challenges, and the dire prognosis given to my family since I was diagnosed so young, I have lived and thrived for almost 57 years with this condition, continually making and changing plans because of the influences diabetes has had on my life.  So I accept this medal with great humility and a touch of honor.

Triumph for Man and Medicine

“Triumph for Man and Medicine”

 

"For 50 Courageous Years With Diabetes"

“For 50 Courageous Years With Diabetes”

 

*However, getting the documentation “required” to prove I’ve been diabetic for over 50 years was an adventure unto itself.  None of the hospitals keep records from that far back, my pediatricians are no longer alive, my father and grandparents who could have vouched for me are also deceased, and my mother is no longer sure of when, exactly, I was diagnosed.  Fortunately, with the help pf my mom and sister, an old family friend, and my 94 year-old Godmother I was able to sleuth together enough information to be accepted.

Thank you to my family, friends, and, of course, my  husband and my blood sugar alert dog, Rainie, for all your nurturing and support.  My life has been, and continues to be a truly miraculous adventure.  I’ve lived through many challenges, and out-lived the “odds” I was given at diagnosis.  I would not be here if it were not for you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decisions, Decisions … To alert or to continue carrying the stick?


IMG_0150This morning, I could see in Rainie’s eyes that she was making a difficult decision. Genetically, she is a retriever, so having something in her mouth can be very important. Yet she is also a trained blood sugar alert dog. This makes alerting me to my rapidly changing blood sugars important, also.

And on our walk today, she found a stick. (It is actually unusual for her to carry sticks, despite her being a golden retriever/Lab.) She seemed very proud of this stick – she held her head high as she pranced nest to me with the stick in her mouth. But suddenly she turned to look at me with an inquisitive look in her eye. She repeatedly looked up at me, then at the treat bag I always carry for her, and then towards ground. Suddenly she dropped the stick, nudged me twice, and then picked up her stick again without even waiting for her treat-reward.

She made the right decision – my blood sugar was dropping quickly.

 

 

 

“I Told You So!”

IMG_1227If Rainie could talk, I’m sure there are times that she’d be saying, “I told you so!”

This happened again today.  I was up in my ceramics room trying to create feet on the bottoms of some nearly finished bowls when Rainie began alerting.  I sensed she might be right because my balance and depth perception seemed a little bit off.  Upon doing my blood sugar I discovered that I was slowly dropping, so proceeded to eat a snack, and went back to work.  I wanted to push through and get this job done.  The dryness of the clay was just right – not too hard and not too soft.  But despite my intentions, she kept alerting!  I felt fine.  I had just eaten and needed to get my ceramics work done!  That was until I cut right through the semi-dry bowl with a semi-sharp tool.  She was right.  I hadn’t sensed that  my blood sugar had continued to drop and I wasn’t feeling how unstable I’d become.

As I tossed down my tools and took off my apron in pure frustration, Rainie flopped down on the floor with an exasperated sigh which loudly stated, “I TOLD YOU SO!”  

Preparing for a Lecture

As I sit here preparing for tomorrow’s lecture on Diabetic Alert Dogs (DADs), I can’t help but marvel at myself and muse about what has caused me to change — I used to be so shy and reserved; and now I am preparing to take the podium, once again, to talk about diabetic alert dogs, Early Alert Canine (EAC), and my life with my diabetic alert dog, Rainie.   These changes must be due to passion!

 I am passionate about telling the world about diabetic alert dogs and the safety and sense of companionship they bring.  And Early Alert Canines!  There is so much to tell about this organization also.  EAC provides these life saving and life changing dogs to diabetic children as well as teens and adults.  Affecting the lives of families with diabetic children is what excites me the most.  This is why I became involved with EAC – because of their intention of making DADs available to families with young diabetics, and because of my memories of growing up with diabetes.  I remember when I was too young, or my blood sugar too low, for me to say, “I need help!” During the 56 years I’ve been diabetic I’ve experienced all sorts of changes in technology, beliefs, and protocols; but I can easily admit that nothing has changed my life as positive a way as Rainie has.  I want to share this with the world.

 Diabetic alert dogs give diabetics of every age the advanced warning of quickly changing blood sugars, so steps may be taken so dangerous situations may be avoided.  By doing their jobs, the dogs may help to reduce fear, increase emotional and blood sugar stability, increase the overall sense of peace-of-mind, and provide the sort of acceptance only a dog can.  I want to do what I can to educate the public about DADs, and, help change the lives of people living with and influenced by diabetes…

 …So tomorrow, I ascend the podium.

What else can a diabetic alert dog do? (As well as an introduction)

Will work for  Cheerios (but I'd prefer a steak!)

Will work for
Cheerios
(but would prefer a steak!)

“Hi.  My name is Darwin.  I am a Diabetic Alert Dog.  I alert this girl’s parents when she is having a high or a low blood sugar.  The parents reward me with Cheerios but I think I deserve a STEAK.  After all I save the girl’s life all the time.  If you agree, please like this.  The girl’s parents said id I get 10.000 lkes I get a STEAK.  Thank you!”  ~~ This photo was originally posted on Face Book; and although I’ve written about Darwin in the past, if you haven’t had the opportunity to meet this regal, layed-back, newly graduated black Lab and his 4- year- old charge, please check into their new blog (hilariously written from Darwin’s perspective, and voiced by his human mom.) DarwintheDAD.com

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Laura and Darwin just graduated from EAC as a certified diabetic alert dog team.  Since Laura, being only 5, is too young to be Darwin’s designated handler, “Team Darwin” includes her parents also.

It is impossible for me to express how the life of a family with a young diabetic child changes once a DAD (Diabetic Alert Dog) enters the household.  Many parents have said that they have a huge sense of relief knowing they have yet another team member to watch over their child, in a way that they cannot.  The dogs help bring a sense of peace of mind, increased safety, caring, companionship and friendship to all, not just the immediate family.

Because Darwin has been trained to have two distinctive alerts, one for highs and another for low/dropping blood sugars, Darwin’s alerting is also allowing Laura to identify the sensations of high and low blood sugars, give them appropriate names, and verbalize the feelings.  This is an incredible and unforeseen gift!  The world of how these dogs help us continues to evolve.

Hooray for “Team Darwin!”  And, as for my alert dog Rainie, I believe her preferred  reward for alerting me would be either pumpkin pie, or graham crackers with peanut-butter.

IMG_0227

Will work for  Cheerios (but I'd prefer a steak!)

Will work for
Cheerios
(but I’d prefer a steak!)

 

And I thought she was showing off!

It's been a hard day (actually, it's been many hard weeks)!

It’s been a hard day
(actually, it’s been many hard weeks)!

This is the sort of picture I would usually get of Rainie after an event such as a diabetic walk, or tonight’s EAC Crab Feed, or any time there are many people with diabetes in one area — as a diabetic alert dog, she is always aware of everyone’s blood sugar.

However, I took this photo yesterday after I dumped jackets, etc., on the floor before bringing in the groceries from the car.  Rainie was exhausted.  We had just come back from a very crowded grocery shopping (she gets very nervous when there are many shopping carts being pushed around, and her “I’m nervous” behavior includes nudging, which is also one of her ‘alerts’), and my blood sugar has been in what I like to call “super-ball” mode for the past few weeks.  Rainie has been very busy alerting on all the highs and lows.  I didn’t realize that she was also doing this while dodging the other shoppers.  Fortunately for me, she rarely gives up.

I had run into some friends in front of the egg section.  (I hadn’t seen them in a long time and joked about their recognizing me because of Rainie).  Well, as we talked, Rainie begin nudging me.  I petted her, knowing that my bs (blood sugar) was fine, having just done it in the car.  As I acknowledged her, Rainie looked at my friends for what I assumed was attention.  She does this sometimes because she is a true flirt!  After a few minutes of “annoying me” my friend suggested I might want to take something; so I popped a glucose tablet in my mouth – despite the fact that I knew I was ‘fine’.  I wanted to keep talking.  When we finally said good-bye and I was in line at the cashier, I did my bs.  It was unchanged from what it had been in the car.  “Show-off!” I thought!  I was annoyed.  But Rainie would  not stop alerting, in fact, she was ramping-up.  So when I got to the car I did my bs again and found it had dropped 50 points between then and the check-out line!  Good girl, Rainie!  I ate more glucose while sitting in the car; and while waiting for my bs to rise I rediscovered that my CD player was still out of discs and that I still wish they would make chocolate or peanut-butter flavored glucose.   Sigh.  It took 20 minutes and many glucose tablets before I was safe to drive.

Thank you, Rainie (and Jan and Chris)!

Given as a gift

This YouTube video was made by one of Early Alert Canine’s newest teams as a Christmas gift to EAC’s head trainer.  Valerie does a wonderful job of explaining about life with Type 1 diabetes (T1D), as well as the role a diabetic alert dog, and the impact that one has on the life of the diabetic, family and community.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlHdzrZzfXI

Please, enjoy the show!

~Hilary and Rainie

 

Laura Consoles a Friend

IMG_2581When a service dog is first bought home, it is important that he interact only with his new partner and not be distracted by others.  This is primarily for bonding purposes, and so the dog learns who and what to focus on.

Even though I understand this rule because I am a service dog owner, it’s sometimes even hard for me not to ask if I can pet other service dogs because of my own love for dogs in general.  “No touching or distracting” is a ‘rule’ that all service dog owners must constantly reinforce with the public.

Here is another story about Laura and Darwin (see my last post) and how she is helping teach others about these stipulations.

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(Written by Laura’s grandma)

…The trainers urge all of the clients not to let people pet Darwin because, especially in the early days of being home, he is learning to focus on Laura.

In public, such as a store or at yesterday’s soccer game, people have been understanding.  It’s harder, however, when people we like and who are passionate about animals want to pet him.  He is such a handsome dog, with an earnest expression and that shiny, silky coat, that people say they just want to hug him.  Yesterday (our friend), although completely getting the point, was telling Darwin that she was sad about not being able to hug him and that she was just going to break into the house sometime to give him a huge hug.

Laura disappeared to her room for a few minutes and returned with her 12 inch high, bright red plastic Red Rover puppy from a game. She handed it to (her friend) and said she could pet it. If an adult had done this , or even an older child one could suspect a smart- alecky attitude, but Laura said, “I don’t want you to feel bad.”

Darwin Alerts in the car

Darwin Alerts in the car

A Mother’s Letter (and, An EAC Success Story)

Laura and Darwin

Laura and Darwin

Early Alert Canines has just finished another team training where two adults with diabetes were placed with blood sugar alert dogs, as well as one family with a four year old daughter with diabetes.

The young family has been home with their dog, Darwin, for almost one week.  Face Book postings are telling the wonderful story of how Darwin is reveling in his job of alerting to high and low blood sugar changes.  Sometimes when a dog first goes home with his new partner, it takes a while for the dog to adjust to the new routine, new people, and new environment.  NOT DARWIN!  In the few days he has been in his new ‘forever home’ he has alerted the mother of his new young charge, Laura, at pre-school, at home, during soccer practice and during dance class.  Good boy, Darwin!

I would like to share this ‘post’ written by Laura’s mother, explaining how difficult it is to regulate a young child’s diabetes, and what a gift Darwin has already been in their lives:

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It was brought to my attention that with all the posts recently about how great Darwin is at helping us manage Laura’s type one diabetes, as well as posting about highs and lows, that people might perceive it that we didn’t have control without him. First of all, T1D Managment is an art, not a science. The body is always changing and so do insulin needs. When Laura is getting sick, we know ahead of time from wacky numbers. When she’s stressed, we can tell from the numbers. We are constantly changing insulin ratios to try to match her insulin needs. As you can imagine, it’s a daily battle that is hit and miss. Large swings in the numbers is normal, while not ideal. One has to be most concerned about lows and chronic highs.

Prior to having Darwin we would have to rely on trying to read the signs of highs and lows from Laura’s behavior and mood. She’s 4. Sometimes a 4 year olds behavior is similar to a diabetic having a low. With Darwin, he smells a difference and he can let us know. Laura can tell us if she’s low if she’s relaxed. But in the soccer situation, she showed no visible signs of a low nor did she mention anything. Darwin helped us intercept that before it got very dangerous.

We have also used a continuous glucose monitor that works with her pump. The CGM can give us an indication if she’s on the way up or down. It’s not 100% accurate and there are delays in the readings. There is a 20-30 minute lag time generally. Darwin will, in most cases, be able to catch a low before it happens. The CGM is also one more piece of equipment Laura has to have punctured into her. As a mom, if I can get similar or better information from a black fuzzy doggie rather than a sensor stuck in her I will use the dog.

That being said, new technology is always in the pipeline for T1D management. When the new stuff comes out, Laura will have it.

In future posts I will be more clear about how Darwin has changed the way we handle things.

Type one diabetes sucks. I will use anything and everything to make sure Laura is as happy and healthy as she can be. For now and for ever.

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T1D means Type 1 Diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, called beta cells. While its causes are not yet entirely understood, scientists believe that both genetic factors and environmental triggers are involved. Its onset has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle. There is nothing you can do to prevent T1D, and—at present—nothing you can do to get rid of it.  (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation)

A person who has been diagnosed with T1D must take insulin in order to say alive.

If a Picture Says A Thousand Words…

Love And Devotion

Love and Devotion

A boy and his blood sugar alert dog.

(Thank you Sam, Cohen and Jedi & Early Alert Canines)