Family seeking diabetic alert dog to combat Type 1 dangers
At the age of 6, Luke Giammolva’s life changed unexpectedly, and permanently at that.
The Destrehan boy was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in July of 2018. His type is the much rarer and usually more serious form of the illness, which causes the body to create little or no insulin. Learning to manage the illness has been an often trying experience for Luke and his parents over the past year.
It also, at times, can be a frightening one.
“To just look at Luke, people think he’s healthy,” said his mother, Rachel Giammolva.
“But,” she continued, “we keep him alive every day.”
The Giammolvas have no family history of diabetes, making his diagnosis a shock, and the ensuing management that comes with it a new adventure.
That’s so even for Rachel, who is a nurse.
“I don’t think many people are fully aware of how bad (Type 1 diabetes) is,” Rachel said. “Even as a nurse, I didn’t realize how bad it was until experiencing it with my son. It’s been life-changing for us.”
Luke receives up to five shots a day of insulin and has a continuous monitor for his blood sugar. There is no cure for the illness, meaning he’ll continue to have to deal with these things in some form going forward.
“I was devastated,” Rachel said of his diagnosis. “I knew it meant a stark change for us … everything is just different. We’ve had to adapt to a new plan. We just keep doing what we have to do. But we’ve said numerous times to one another, ‘why couldn’t it have been one of us and not him?’”
The most difficult aspect of it is Luke lacks symptoms when certain things are wrong – with Type 1 diabetes, high and low blood sugar levels are dangerous, the low side moreso. But without an alert from his monitor, he may never know, much less his parents, that he’s in any danger. Rachel said the monitor is a necessity and very helpful, but not infallible.
“It’s not 100 percent,” she said. “It’s a great tool, but it can be off sometimes by up to 100 points.”
There was indeed a point where his levels fell in the middle of the night—the monitor, in this case, sounded the alarm, alerted his mother and father and they were able to treat him.
Were the monitor to fail, however, a worst case scenario could prove fatal. If Luke’s blood sugar is low he requires fast acting carbohydrates to bring his sugar up quickly, if he is high, he needs insulin along with water to flush ketones out of his blood to prevent his blood from becoming acidotic and possibly moving towards Diabetic Ketoacidosis.
It’s led the family to explore additional methods of caring for Luke that can bridge the gap as close to that 100 percent mark as possible. One unique, but potentially very effective means of doing so, would be by securing a specialized service dog for Luke, something the Giammolvas have been working toward.
Specifically, they’d like to bring a diabetic alert dog into their home. Through saliva, the trained canines can sense a drop or rise in their owner’s blood sugar levels long before a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) does.
“They can know to go get his insulin if he’s high or good if he’s low. It’s amazing what they can do,” Rachel said.
Especially for the late night, early morning hours, that could buy his parents the kind of peace of mind that’s been rare over the past year.
“The CGM is a life-saving tool, but an inaccurate reading at the wrong time … it would give a lot of comfort to know he has a second nurse, so to speak, who’s always with him,” Rachel said.
Additionally, she thinks it would be an emotional lift for her son, who’s endured a difficult year since his diagnosis. Luke has had to switch schools and has had to abandon certain activities – a plan to begin playing soccer recreationally had to be put aside because it was causing him complications.
Bringing the dog in won’t be immediate. Training a puppy to be a diabetic alert dog can cost over $10,000, while the family also has to factor in the cost of the puppy himself.
Some have offered assistance to that end, with $1,300 in donations, including a large portion via a GoFundMe page for the cause (titled “Luke wants a puppy, not just any puppy”), set up by the family.
Rachel said she knows it won’t happen overnight, but that she’ll work toward the goal as long as it takes.
“I just want him to have every available resource and do what’s best for my son,” she said.