Over the summer, Lisa Wardenaar noticed her son, 14 -year-old Garner West, was drinking more than usual. But, she chalked that up to it being hot out and his high activity level as a typical teenage boy. Likewise, his frequent trips to the bathroom seemed to be easily explained by his increased thirst. And for him, he'd noticed he'd been feeling a little more tired than usual, but again, it was hot outside and he was keeping busy. But then, Garner happened to step on a scale while visiting the gym with his dad, and that's when they realized he'd lost 18 pounds in just two weeks. The family immediately rushed him to the doctor where tests confirmed that Garner had Type-1 diabetes.
"There's a misconception that he can't eat certain things or he can't have sweets, and that's not the case. His pancreas has stopped working which means he's not producing insulin," Lisa explained.
As a result, Garner has to compensate by giving himself insulin shots. He also wears a glucose monitor at all times, but the family has learned they can't rely on that 100 percent, especially at night.
"It can tell me when it's low, but it lags. Like sometimes it will say I'm 70 but I'm really 40, and I'll sleep right through it," said Garner.
As a result, his mom and stepdad have tried to set up a backup plan.
"It's hooked into our cell phones, so we can get an alert when he's starting to drop," she said. "I'll get up and wake him up and we'll always check with a finger test, and there are times that the monitor isn't 100 percent accurate and can be off 20-30 points."
Which Lisa explained can be a big deal when dealing with a diabetic. Garner's blood sugar should stay around 100. Anything under 90 is cause for concern and needs treatment. But his mom said he's dipped as low as the 40's and 50's in a matter of minutes.
"He could go into a seizure. He could drop low enough to go into a coma and eventually he could die," began Lisa. "My biggest fear is what if I sleep through the alarm going off? I don't sleep much anymore. And what if I sleep through the alarm and something were to happen?"
DIABETIC ALERT DOGS
It's that terrifying possibility that led Lisa to look for other options to protect her son. Through extensive research, she made connections with Bill Creasy, an experienced dog trainer who specializes now in training what are known as DADs, or Diabetic Alert Dogs.
"They alert to high and low blood sugars. At this stage I only teach lows, because lows are so critical," stated Bill as he sat next to Garner and Lisa in their Holly Springs home. Ever since Lisa contacted him, he's been making trips back and forth between their house and his home in Tennessee to help train Garner's future dog, a black Lab named Sadie. It gives both boy and dog the chance to bond, and it's also helping in collecting regular samples used to train Sadie.
That's a process Bill details as he pulls out a small, silver tin with holes poked in the top. He takes the lid off, and inside is small piece of white gauze.
"This is a dental gauze, like you put in your mouth at the dentist. When you're 70 or below you put this in the mouth of the child and slobber it up and put it in a test tube. That's a scent sample. That's what I use to train with," he explained.
It's a tool that he said he uses for thousands of repetitions to familiarize the dog with the scent. As for what the dog does when he realizes blood sugar levels are dipping dangerously low, they're trained differently depending on the age of the child.
"If it's an infant, we teach them to go get the mother. You know, like it will sleep next to the crib with the baby. But the older ones, it will alert (them,)" Bill stated.
So in Garner's case, Sadie will paw at his chest till he wakes up. It's something that's worked for Bill, who's a Type-1 diabetic himself who relies on his own Diabetic Alert Dog. He recounted a time when he went into shock one night and his dog actually pulled him off his bed by the mattress and was pulling him around the room till he finally came to in time, something he credits with saving his life.
And these dogs can be trained to do even more. They can be taught to bring insulin to a child, or even to open a refrigerator door and bring a child a juice box or sugary snack. Of course, all this training does come at a price: $16,500.
It's a huge expense Garner's family hadn't been planning on, and it comes on top of his medicine, glucose monitors, and testing supplies. Still, his mom said she feels it will be worth every penny.
"If the dog alerts one time, to me, you can't put a price tag on that," Lisa stated emphatically. "If she saves his life, even just one time, you can't put a price on that."
FAMILY TURNS TO ONLINE FUNDRAISING SITE GOFUNDME
To help the family come up with the money, other family members and friends urged them to turn to online fundraising, something Lisa swore she'd never thought she'd do before. But, she said it's given concerned loved ones a way to feel that they're helping Garner. And through their generosity, the family has raised more than $9,000 so far.
As for Garner, he said he can't wait till Sadie's training is done and she finally comes home to stay with him for good.
"She's really sweet. She's fun to play with. She's just like a normal dog, but she's not at the same time," he said while softly stroking her.
For more on Garner or to donate to his fund: https://www.gofundme.com/DAD4Garner
For more on Bill Creasy's Diabetic Alert Dogs: www.ouchgbang.com or firstname.lastname@example.org