Man’s best friend helps a diabetic child monitor and prevent hypoglycemic episodes while bringing comfort to his family. By Kari Walker

Monday, July 1, 2013

Type I Diabetes is a life-long illness. If not properly monitored, a diabetic can quickly become ill to the point of critical condition. It’s a condition no mother takes lightly when it comes to caring for her child. When he was only 14 months old, Ean Young received the diagnosis after his mom, Crystall Coroy, noticed something was not right with her son. Looking back, his symptoms were classic of the endocrine disorder — he was losing weight, producing more wet diapers than average, was constantly tired and incredibly thirsty. A busy mom of identical twins, Coroy just knew her other son Ellis’s needs differed from Ean’s.

Over the past four years, Coroy’s life has been filled with monitoring blood sugars, giving insulin, and helping the busy boy understand his insulin pump was not a toy. Ean’s blood sugar is often labile, and if his hypoglycemia is not assessed quickly, he could suffer a seizure or increase his chances of suffering from one of the dire complications of poorly managed diabetes, such as blindness and poor-healing foot sores that could result in amputation. Coroy wakes up every two to three hours at night to check Ean’s status and make sure he’s not in distress. She worries for her son’s well-being, but now, thanks to a diabetic alert dog named Reggie, she has a little peace of mind.

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Twins Ean, front, and Ellis Young with Reggie

Diabetic alert dogs are trained to sniff out low blood sugars well before a human might notice there is cause for alarm. The dog notifies its handler of the hypoglycemic situation, allowing for a quick blood sugar check and proper insulin management. Reggie has been trained since a puppy by Wildrose Kennels, and the now 2-year-old British Labrador is Ean’s service dog that can go wherever he goes.

“Not everyone is aware of service animals, but once explained, I haven’t had many problems,” says Coroy on taking the dog to restaurants and grocery stores. For now, Coroy is Reggie’s handler, but as Ean matures, Reggie will also attend school once Ean becomes the handler (Ean had to leave Reggie behind on a recent vacation dad Richard Young took the boys on to Florida, as Reggie can only have one handler at a time). Diabetic alert dogs are not easy to come by — Ean waited three years for Reggie, and the average cost of a fully trained dog is $10,000. But to Coroy, the investment is priceless to help her young son better manage his diabetes.

Reggie was purchased from Wildrose Kennels, a breeding and training center founded in 1972 in Oxford, Miss. Renowned for the training of British and Irish Labradors for hunting and guide dogs (like the Ducks Unlimited mascot Drake), Wildrose added the Diabetic Alert Dog program to its services in 2009 after discovering that some Wildrose Labs already had a sense for smelling blood sugar. An intense training program was developed to further develop the already sensitive noses of these dogs and has become a program with increasing attraction for an alternative method to meeting the medical needs of Type I diabetics. It’s not uncommon to be on a waiting list for a year or longer to receive a Diabetic Alert Dog once strict criteria and a preliminary screening process are in place.

Since Ean is a twin, his identical twin brother Ellis has a 50 percent chance of also becoming a diabetic. The illness has become a passion for Coroy and her five children — the clan is known for contributing to fundraising for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. This year, their team raised more than $10,000 through donations and T-shirt sales. Her hope is the continued funding of research will discover better management and increased quality of life for diabetics like her son.

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