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Community Pitches in to Fund Plum Girl's Diabetic Alert Dog

Laura Pearlman of Plum can't feel the symptoms associated with her Type 1 diabetes, so she's seeking the help of an alert dog.

At the end of the month, Laura Pearlman will have a new way of monitoring her blood sugar—a four-legged friend.

Laura, a fourth-grader at , was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes—a lifelong disease that occurs when a person's body can't control blood sugar levels on its own because his/her pancreas has stopped producing insulin—more than two years ago.

Currently, Laura uses a continuous glucose monitor, an insulin pump and a meter to keep tabs on and control her levels each day. However, she doesn't feel the symptoms associated with blood sugar highs and lows, leaving her at a disadvantage for proactive treatment.

Symptoms for low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)—trembling, sweating, fatigue, pounding heartbeat, hunger, etc.—usually appear when the blood sugar level falls below 70 mg/dL. If a person's blood sugar gets too low, they could faint, have a seizure or go into a coma.

Because of this, Laura must check her blood sugar 10 to 15 times per day, to make sure her levels are at an acceptable range. Her mother, Brenda, also checks her blood sugar about four times overnight.

"Her all-time low was a 32," Brenda said. "She was asleep and I couldn't get her to wake up. I was shoving Smarties in her mouth to give her sugar.

"I don't think people realize how hard of a disease this is. Until you live with it, you don't know."

That's where Laura's new tool, a goldendoodle named Daisy, will come in handy. Daisy has been trained through Canine Assisted Rehabilitation and Education Services, and Tidewater K9 Training Academy in Virginia to detect Laura's levels by smelling the chemical changes occurring with her levels.

If Daisy senses Laura's blood sugar is too high or too low, she will paw at Laura until she checks her blood sugar.

"There's no OK button on her that I can push to turn her off," Laura said with a laugh.

Brenda researched the possibility of a diabetes alert dog when it became apparent that Laura wasn't feeling her symptoms.

"They told us to keep waiting and that it might take time, but here we are two years later," Brenda said. "We were waiting for her to feel her lows, but it hasn't happened."

When Laura met Daisy, there was an instant connection.

"She alerted me I was low before my Dexcom (continuous glucose monitor) went off," Laura said.

Brenda's mother, a seamstress, made a quilt and gave it to Brenda to raffle off to raise some money for Daisy, who costs $18,000. Those efforts expanded to several community members coming together to help raise money for the diabetes alert dog.

A fundraiser will be held on Friday, March 16, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Friday at , 1001 Summit St. in Plum. Proceeds from a bake sale, raffles, Chinese auction, balloon artist, face painting and more will be used to offset the cost of Daisy.

Little stuffed animal dogs also will be sold at the Pivik Elementary student store for $2 to raise money for the cause.

The Pearlmans will travel to Virginia on March 31 to train with Daisy for a week.

"Daisy is my big Easter present," Laura said.

Laura and Daisy will go to public places such as malls, grocery stores, restaurants and public transportation.

"The scent work is the easy part," Brenda said. "The work will be in handling Daisy in public."

Though Laura said she's excited to have a dog of her own, she wants other kids to know living with diabetes isn't easy.

"I wrote an essay for school about diabetic alert dogs, and that's when I realized this dog could really help me," she said. "My mom asked if I would be OK with people staring at me, but people already stare at me when my monitors beep and I have to poke myself.

"Kids think I'm lucky because I'm getting a dog and I get to leave class to go to the nurse. I want to ask them if they want to trade lives and take the diabetes with them."

For more information about diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association website and the website of the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Diabetes Association.

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