Diabetes service dog saves the day and night for Fort Worth teen

Posted Tuesday, May. 21, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Growing up with Type 1 diabetes has not been easy for Delaney Alves, a 2012 graduate of Timber Creek High School

Diagnosed at age 2, his daily routine consists of checking blood sugar levels, counting carbohydrates and getting insulin shots. When Alves was 6, his father died of the disease at age 36.

Unlike Type 2 diabetes, fueled by obesity and inactivity, Type 1 diabetes is an insulin-dependent condition with no known relation to weight or lack of exercise.

Alves, 19, of Fort Worth, said he no longer has feeling in his fingertips from all the years of testing blood sugar levels, which spike and drop to dangerous levels numerous times per day and even while he sleeps.

Thanks to the newest member of the family, Dex, a diabetes service dog, Alves can sleep at night without worry.

The 7-month-old yellow Labrador Retriever was delivered to Alves Feb. 8 from Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers Inc., a nonprofit company in Orange, Va.

Dex senses blood sugar problems 45 minutes before symptoms occur and alerts Alves. During the night, if Alves does not awaken, Dex alerts Alves mother, Judy Alves.

Dex can even let Alves know if the blood sugar is high or low by touching with his nose for low or pawing for high. If the blood sugar level is high, the blood smells sugary; low levels smell like acetone to Dex, Alves said.

About a month ago, Dex began alerting Alves about 8 p.m. that something was wrong.

Alves said his blood sugar numbers should range between 80 and 130 and at that time, his level was 120.

“I kept checking until 10 p.m. but it was still in range, so I went to bed,” Alves said. “I woke up two hours later because of Dex and it was 30.”

Alves’ 15-year-old brother, Dyllan, has also been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Dex alerts to him as well.

Judy Alves said she still worries about her sons but sleeps much better at night thanks to Dex.

“He is very smart,” Judy Alves said. “He was alerting within 10 minutes of being in our home. He does whatever he can to get your attention.”

Dex begins alerting by yawning, scratching behind the ear, nudging or pawing. Other alert warnings include heavy panting or wheezing.

If those signals are not noticed, Dex takes other measures such as running around the room, jumping on the couch and acting wild.

Alves said Dex even alerts him while he is driving a car, saving not only Alves from a tragedy, but others on the road.

“It makes me a lot more confident going out,” Alves said.

Pat O’Brien, Alves grandmother, said Dex is such a blessing to the family.

“It just amazes me,” O’Brien said. “I’m still in awe. It makes me more comfortable when I’m here alone with the two of them.”

Alves said after Dex is a little older and undergoes more training, plans for college in Arizona could be in the works to get a degree in video-graphing and web design.

By then, the family hopes to have a diabetes alert dog for Dyllan but the cost is expensive.

Judy Alves said in April 2012, the family started raising money for a diabetic service dog.

She said thanks to generous support of family and church friends, an initial collection of $100 quickly grew to $1000, the amount needed to get the process started of matching a dog with the family.

On Christmas Eve, Judy Alves got the call that a match was made and the dog would be delivered in February.

Total cost for Dex is $20,500. The Alves family is still paying for the dog by fund raising and donations.

To learn more about service dogs or make a donation, go to www.sdwr.org.

Susan McFarland, 817-390-7547 Twitter: @susanmcfarland1

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