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News / Life / Pets & Wildlife

A service dog for Annie

Vancouver teen with Type 1 diabetes works to raise money to buy specially trained service dog, Suzie

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter
Published: August 2, 2015, 5:00pm
3 Photos
Annie Weston, 14, tests her blood-sugar levels Tuesday morning at her Vancouver home.
Annie Weston, 14, tests her blood-sugar levels Tuesday morning at her Vancouver home. Annie was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes two years ago and tests her blood sugar six to eight times a day. Photo Gallery

Fourteen-year-old Annie Weston, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes two years ago, is raising money to purchase a diabetic alert dog. To donate, visit her GoFundMe page, www.gofundme.com/jmh4fk.

Annie Weston should have been in a coma.

Two years ago, the Vancouver teen was experiencing migraines and extreme fatigue, sleeping considerably more than she used to. When the persistent thirst kicked in, Annie’s parents, Lori and Ryan Weston, realized their daughter could have diabetes. Lori called one of Annie’s cousins who has Type 1 diabetes and asked him to stop by with his testing kit. She wanted to test Annie.

Annie’s blood-sugar level was off the charts, literally. Her levels were so high the monitor couldn’t read them. The meter topped out at 600. A normal blood-sugar level is lower than 100.

At the emergency department, blood tests revealed Annie’s blood-sugar level was 1,003 — a number that would, in many cases, result in a diabetic coma.

Fourteen-year-old Annie Weston, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes two years ago, is raising money to purchase a diabetic alert dog. To donate, visit her GoFundMe page, www.gofundme.com/jmh4fk.

“This was really scary,” Lori Weston said.

Annie was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which occurs when the body’s immune system destroys the beta cells in the pancreas, making the body incapable of producing insulin. Unlike Type 2 diabetes, which is tied to obesity and sedentary lifestyle, Type 1 diabetes cannot be slowed or reversed.

Annie, who was 11 years old at the time, spent four days at Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel in Portland. Then she was sent home with needles, insulin and a testing kit.

She pricks her finger to test her blood about six to eight times a day. She injects insulin into her stomach, thighs or backs of her arms at every meal — more if needed — and uses long-release insulin before bed.

“Normally, I stab myself eight to 10 times a day,” said Annie, now 14.

Since her diagnosis, Annie has had difficulty managing her diabetes. She hopes a new four-legged companion named Suzie will be able to help.

Most people get signs when their blood sugar is dropping too low or rising too high. Those symptoms prompt them to test and administer insulin. Annie often doesn’t show any signs of trouble until her blood sugar has dropped to dangerous levels.

Annie should be keeping her blood sugar between 100 and 180. She’s seen her levels drop down to 40 — many times without any symptoms.

When that happens — and it did multiple times a week during the last school year — Annie has to eat a snack, wait 15 minutes, then test her blood sugar again. If the numbers don’t come up enough, Annie repeats the process as many times as necessary.

“That process can sometimes take a while,” Lori said. “She missed a lot of class, and her grades suffered.”

Before entering her freshman year at Skyview High School this fall, Annie hopes to purchase a diabetic alert dog. The dogs are trained to alert their handlers when the handler’s blood sugar drops below 80 or rises above 180.

Annie started raising money earlier this year to purchase a dog. She held a garage sale and sold hot dogs and baked goods. She cleans houses for people from her church. She pet-sits for her neighbors. She also set up a GoFundMe site to collect donations.

A couple of weeks ago, a trainer in Lexington, Ky., reached out to Annie after seeing her GoFundMe site.

Eighteen-year-old Libby Rockaway — a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers who founded her own business, Libby’s Loving Leashes, and has written a book, “Puppy Steps,” on training puppies — offered Annie her newly trained diabetic alert dog, Suzie. Suzie is a 9-month-old Comfort Retriever, a combination of a poodle and golden retriever that looks like a small golden retriever, weighing only 25 to 50 pounds.

To get Suzie, Annie needs to raise $9,800 and fly Rockaway and Suzie to Vancouver for a few days of in-person training. Rockaway has agreed to work out a payment plan with Annie, allowing her to put $5,000 down and pay the rest over time.

So far, Annie has raised about $3,000. She hopes to raise another $2,000 for the down payment in the next month.

“It would be so nice to have the dog before high school started,” Annie said.

Diabetic alert dogs are service animals and, as such, have public access rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Suzie will be trained to paw at Annie when Annie’s blood-sugar levels are outside of range. Suzie is trained to detect the change in scent her handler’s body emits when levels are high or low. That means Suzie will be able to warn Annie of dropping blood-sugar levels before they get dangerously low.

Suzie also will be trained to retrieve Annie’s testing kit and juice boxes.

“It would give me and my mom and my dad more comfort and peace of mind,” Annie said. “I wouldn’t have so many diabetes-related issues.”

For about a year, Annie had an insulin pump, which administers insulin through a catheter under the skin. But Annie realized the device wasn’t for her. She got too complacent with the pump and wasn’t as diligent with testing and administering insulin. So she went back to injections.

Annie and Lori hope Suzie will help Annie to better control her diabetes, while also offering companionship — not only for Annie, but for others, as well.

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Annie wants to get Suzie certified to be a therapy dog and take her to hospitals to visit patients.

“I know how hard it is,” Annie said of being in the hospital, “and how scary it can be.”

Columbian Health Reporter