Diabetes Assistance Dogs Smell Blood Sugar Changes

Some diabetics across the nation are using dogs that can sniff out blood sugar changes in the body.

But just how the canines can do the work appears to remain a mystery. According to the American Diabetes Association’s “Diabetes Forecast,” scientists believe the dogs pick up on a related scent released by the diabetic, but they have not figured what that scent is.

One local woman who is struggling with managing her diabetes will learn first hand how the dogs work. Michaela Basham, 30, of Wheeling is scheduled to start training with such a dog from Freedom Paws Assistance Dogs, Marysville, Ohio, in June.

She is in the process of raising money to cover the cost associated with the company’s training.

Basham was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a child. During Christmas 2012, Basham had a day that started out normal: she went to work, ate lunch and took her insulin.

“At the end of my shift I went to the bathroom and that is all I remember for hours. My blood sugar dropped very low without me feeling any of the symptoms or side effects that I was used to and I sort of passed out in the bathroom. I was awake and talking some of the time, but I don’t remember talking to any of the people who said they tried to help me. It took two hours for my boss to realize the severity of the situation and call 911. I came to on the bathroom floor with a Cumberland Trail paramedic in the doorway asking if I wanted to go to the hospital as another one was trying to start an IV on me,” Basham said.

Basham said she spent Christmas Eve morning in the emergency room. She was confused and terrified about what happened.

“I hated knowing that I had been awake and talking but had no recollection of it. My life that night is like a black hole in my memory. It was the first time that I realized that I don’t always feel my low blood sugars as I have for much of my life. I talked to my doctor, but was told that it can just be part of the body changing over time. I could try to identify if I had different symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) than I had before, but it was possible that I just couldn’t sense the changes anymore,” she said.

Basham hopes the canine, known as a diabetic alert dog, from Freedom Paws can help her lead a more normal life.

“They are trained to sense the chemical changes in their owner’s body when the owner’s blood sugar begins to rise or drop. The dog then consistently alerts the owner until the owner checks her blood sugar and takes steps to raise a low sugar, or lower a high one. A DAD doesn’t remove the need for a glucometer, but it serves as a warning so that the owner can go about her life without needing to check her blood sugar every hour of every day to monitor for unexpected changes.”

“In fact, studies have shown that diabetic alert dogs are often able to alert their owner to a blood sugar change up to half-an-hour before it would register on a glucometer,” Basham said.

To help in her endeavor, Basham is working with the Wheeling Nailers through their fundraising program.

She is selling tickets for the Friday, April 25, playoff game and will also be doing “Pass the Bucket” and “Chuck-A-Puck” during the game. She said she needs to raise $10,000.

“The tickets are regular box office price, but a portion of the proceeds will go to Freedom Paws.”

“This is especially important right now because a dog in their training program recently needed emergency surgery and has amassed quite a deal of vet bills,” she said.

Christina Monterosso, Wheeling Nailers group sales account manager, said the team is excited to partner with Freedom Paws.

“We are proud to support such a great cause and to help provide individuals in need with service dogs,” she said.

For more information about Freedom Paws, visit www.freedompaws.org. To reach the $10,000 goal, Basham has set up a FundRazr page at fundrazr.com/campaigns/8ieOc/ab/632Lna as well as a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ServiceDogforMichaela.

Those wanting to help can “like” Basham’s Facebook page for updates and message her for tickets.

They can also e-mail her at mbservicedog@gmail.com.