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Diabetic Alert Dog Gives Family Peace of Mind

By David13676 @dogspired

20131016_DIABETES_GIRL_222Jenifer and Keoni Cooper are hoping their new yellow Labrador retriever, Nikki, will be more than a companion to their 4-year-old daughter Jaida.

The 11-month-old Lab is about halfway through an intensive training program that will teach Nikki how to smell chemical changes that signal a drop or spike in Jaida’s glucose levels and alert the Coopers.

“The dog is just another tool in keeping her healthy,” Jenifer Cooper said. “Our goal is to keep her level between 70 and 200 — that’s what the doctor recommended — so hopefully the dog will help us catch those changes before they reach dangerous levels.”

Jaida was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes nearly two years ago, and the Coopers have been on constant watch ever since.

A continuous glucose monitor attached to Jaida’s arm sends her glucose level to a device that Jenifer Cooper said she checks dozens of times per day. The Coopers are always looking for symptoms of unusually high or low levels like shaky hands or irritability, which is difficult to spot in a toddler.

Jaida has also been diagnosed with galactosemia, hypothyroidism and a rare skin condition that add additional challenges to her diabetes treatment.

The constant monitoring is exhausting when the couple is awake, but it is almost unbearable at night when the family is trying to sleep.

“Nighttime is the scariest time,” Keoni Cooper said. “I’m hoping we can actually get some sleep once we have the dog to keep an eye on her when we can’t.”

Nikki is a diabetic alert dog who is trained to sense the bitter smell of Jaida’s body when her sugar drops or sweeter smell associated with high glucose levels. When Nikki smells the chemical change, she will alert Jenifer or Keoni by bringing them a toy.

“The monitor she wears is about 45 minutes delayed, but the dog is about 15 minutes ahead,” Keoni Cooper said. “That could be the difference between life and death for her.”

The Coopers are hoping the advance notice will allow them to correct Jaida’s glucose levels more quickly, which will reduce her risk of seizures or amputation, Jenifer Cooper said.

The couple were introduced to the idea of diabetic alert dogs through a friend but were quickly discouraged when they saw the price tag.

Nikki costs $14,000, and that does not include trips that the family will make to train with her at a facility in California or any care after she moves into their home in Firestone. Overall, the family expects to spend close to $20,000 just to get the dog home.

Jenifer Cooper launched a video about Jaida and an online donation link about a year ago that has raised nearly $10,000 toward Nikki’s price tag. A local garage sale, a raffle, an anonymous donation and a recent auction raised the remaining funds just in time for the family to meet Nikki for the first time.

Family friend Jaime Sierra organized a fundraiser and auction at the family’s church in Dacono, New Horizons Christian Church, on Oct. 5 that raised more than $6,000, exceeding the family’s $20,000 goal.

Sierra said she was inspired by Jenifer’s ability to overcome Jaida’s challenges when the two met at church in June.

“I connected with her as a mom,” Sierra said. “With her husband being gone a lot for work, I knew what that was like because my husband is in the military, so I understand what it’s like to be on your own.”

The Coopers returned Tuesday from a few days of training in California, where Nikki will remain for about another year, until her skills are perfected.

The Coopers aren’t looking forward to another mouth to feed — they have enough to keep them busy between Jaida’s treatment; her 2-year-old sister, Jenica; and new baby brother, Kainoa — but they will do whatever it takes to keep Jaida healthy.

“Honestly, it’s not going to be convenient,” Jenifer Cooper said. “It’s going to be like having a fourth child to take care of, but if it provides some peace of mind and helps improve Jaida’s health in the long term, it will be worth it.”

~Via Times Call News

Tags: diabetes dog, diabetic detection dog, dog detects diabetes

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