Dorrie Nuttal was sleeping in her bed one night when she was suddenly awoken by her son’s dog lying on top of her. Naturally, she told him to go back to bed. But when the black lab persisted to try and win her attention, she decided to check on her 7-year-old son. And that decision would ultimately save her son’s life.
Dorrie’s son, Luke, has type 1 diabetes. Sometimes known as juvenile diabetes, because it commonly onsets in childhood, this lifelong condition requires constant blood sugar monitoring. Frighteningly, a blood sugar level too low can be fatal.
In addition, Luke was diagnosed with the condition when he was very young. And as a consequence, since turning two years old he has received thousands of shots of insulin and finger pricks to test his blood sugar levels. Unless a cure is eventually found for diabetes, this will continue for the rest of his life.
Specifically, type 1 diabetes affects how much insulin the pancreas produces – which is usually little to none in sufferers. Since insulin is a hormone that regulates sugar uptake in the body, we cannot properly process sugar without it. And if we can’t convert sugar to energy, we can’t power our muscles and other tissues.
In fact, glucose is the source of fuel for our cells. Yet without insulin, glucose is not allowed to enter the body’s cells. And without the work that insulin does, sugar starts to build up in the bloodstream. This turn of events can go on to cause serious health complications.
Thankfully, of course, diabetics can take insulin medication to treat the condition. But, unfortunately, the treatment can cause problems of its own. For one thing, it can lead to blood sugar dropping too low, which can be just as dangerous as it being too high. And on Facebook, Dorrie recounted one incident describing when this happened to Luke.
Luke had taken his insulin medication but went out to play before finishing his dinner. That meant his insulin level was high, and as a result, his body’s cells were taking in too much sugar. When this happens, blood sugar can drop suddenly. And for diabetics, the pancreas doesn’t do its job properly by moderating insulin production when there is a drop in blood sugar.
Diabetics therefore have to monitor the level of their blood sugar carefully at all times. This usually involves the frequent use of needles and monitoring devices to test the blood. Luke, for instance, wears a device called a continuous glucose monitor sensor. It’s a wire that goes under the skin and tracks the changes in his blood sugar level.
In addition to medical devices, though, Luke also has his canine friend Jedi to help him. In fact, Jedi was specifically trained to detect when Luke’s blood sugar level goes either too high or low. In this way, he helps Luke stay aware of his own health.
The Nuttal family got Jedi as a therapy dog when he was just a pup for the purpose of helping their little boy deal with his life-changing condition. “Life with type 1 diabetes involves high and lows and lots and lots of needles, every single day. We trained Jedi to alert us when Luke goes too low or too high,” Dorrie explained on Facebook in March 2016.
Curiously, the dog is so good at his job that he’s sometimes even a quicker judge of Luke’s blood sugar levels than any glucose monitor. “His alerts often beat the meters, and he saves Luke from lots of the crummy feelings and health issues that go along with each,” Dorrie wrote.
The Nuttals had spent three years training Jedi, and now the therapy dog spends nearly every waking – and sleeping – moment with Luke. “Jedi’s job goes beyond alerting. He also saves Luke from being alone, from being scared. He is his constant companion,” Dorrie explained on Facebook.
In particular, Jedi sits near Luke when he goes through something stressful, such as having a new glucose monitor inserted. At night, Jedi also sleeps right by Luke’s side. So it was strange for Jedi to come to Dorrie’s room that particular winter evening.
In fact, Jedi was lying on top of Dorrie when she woke up. And while Jedi jumped off the bed, he soon jumped halfway back on and wouldn’t budge. Naturally, then, Dorrie’s first response was to check Luke’s glucose monitor. But Luke’s monitor said that his blood sugar level was steady and safe.
Jedi, however, seemed to know better. “I knew [Jedi] meant business, and the sleepy fog started to wear off,” Dorrie recounted on Facebook. And as she got out of bed, Jedi bowed. This was his way of signaling that Luke’s blood sugar was low. And when Dorrie pricked Luke’s finger to check the actual level of his blood sugar, it had indeed dropped dangerously.
“I pricked his finger and got this, 57 is way too low, and by Jedi’s behavior I guarantee he was dropping fast,” Dorrie said. And as she went on to explain, Luke had never woken up on his own to a low level in the four and a half years that he’d lived with the condition.
“Luke was laying right next to me, just inches from me, and without Jedi, I would have had no idea that he was dropping out of a safe range,” said Dorrie. “Most people don’t know that we often see multiple lows and highs every single day no matter how hard we work or how diligent we are. It’s not easy trying to be a pancreas.”
Indeed, while Dorrie and her husband check on Luke’s levels three times a night, they could still miss a problem if they didn’t have Jedi. The faithful Labrador, then, is pretty much a lifesaver. As Dorrie wrote, “No alarms were going off, no one was checking blood, no one was thinking about diabetes, and it’s in those moments when our guards are down, when we are just living life, when we let our minds drift from diabetes, that it has the upper hand – and things can get scary very fast… but thankfully we have a Jedi.”
And Jedi’s powers don’t just stop there, as he also gives the family alerts when Luke has high blood sugar. Instead of bowing to signal this, though, he raises his paw. What’s more, even though the family now have new and improved monitoring equipment for their little boy, Jedi can still beat the system; the therapy dog often gives them an alert ten minutes or so before Luke’s monitor displays such a change.
As well as being exceptional at his job, though, Jedi is also a great friend to his charge – something Dorrie hopes will give her son happy memories for years to come. “When Luke is older, I want him to feel like he always has Jedi with him,” she has said. “They’re great companions and absolutely love each other. When he looks back at his childhood, he may remember the shots and finger pricks, but I also want him to remember the puppy parties.”