"My Dog Could Save My Life"
By Grace Chamberlain as told to Jane Bianchi
Grace, 16, has to keep constant tabs on a condition that could kill her. But fighting diabetes (with the help of her black lab!) has only made her stronger.
Back in first grade, when I was 7 years old, weird things began happening to me: Out of nowhere, I started wetting my pants like a little kid, and my breath smelled really gross, like rotten eggs. Then one day, a teacher found me roaming the halls of my elementary school. I didn’t know where I was or even my own name.
I was rushed to the hospital, where the doctors discovered I had developed a disease called type 1 diabetes. At the time, I barely understood what that meant, but now I’m pretty much an expert. To put it simply: If you have type 1 diabetes, your blood sugar can swing too high (which can trigger kidney damage, a heart attack, a stroke, or blindness) or too low (possibly causing a seizure or a coma). What’s extra scary for me is that I’m a “brittle” diabetic. This means my blood sugar level can swing quickly and very dramatically in either direction—and I could die. To top it off, there’s no cure.
When I first heard the news, all I cared about was whether or not I could still eat my favorite food— scrambled eggs and sour cream. (After all, I was only 7!) Once I heard the answer was a “yes,” I was happy— nothing else bothered me. Boy, I had no idea how much my life was about to change.
Managing My Disease
Keeping diabetes under control is almost a full-time job. If you don’t have the disease, your blood sugar is automatically regulated—it’s something you never have to think about. In my case, I have to check my levels by poking my finger with a needle about 6 to 12 times a day. It grosses some people out, but to me, it’s no big deal. In fact, when I’m sleeping, my parents take turns doing it for me at midnight, 3 a.m., and 6 a.m., and I don’t even wake up!
But even with all that monitoring, there’s still a chance that my blood sugar could swing dangerously high or low. That’s when Jackie comes to the rescue! She’s my alert dog—a black lab that’s been trained to actually smell my blood sugar levels. If she thinks they’ve dropped or elevated, she alerts me by giving me her paw, whining, or scratching the floor. She’ll even pull the covers off me if I’m sleeping! (That’s why I have holes in all of my blankets.) I love her so much.
Explaining my condition to other kids hasn’t been easy. When I met my best friend Joanna, the first thing she asked me was about the fanny pack I always wear around my waist. It’s actually an insulin pump, which helps keep my blood sugar in a healthy range, but I was worried that she’d think it was weird. So I lied and said it was a phone. When I finally came clean, she didn’t care. I felt so relieved.
Other people haven’t been as cool, though. In elementary school, I had to go to the nurse a lot because I was too young to test my blood myself. Kids would say, “Oh, she’s such a crybaby. She just wants attention.” At the time, I was too scared to confront them, so I played it off as if my disease wasn’t serious. But it is serious—really serious.
In fact, last year, my friend—she was exactly my age—died of diabetes in her sleep. Going to her funeral was so incredibly sad and hard. It was a frightening reminder that one day I could be here—and then one day, I could just not.
Looking to the Future
Though I’ll probably have to monitor my blood sugar forever, scientists are working on devices that could make it easier. But they need money first! That’s why my family, Joanna, and I are all traveling to California in October to do a 105-mile bike ride—we’ll be fundraising for diabetes awareness and research.
And yes, 105 miles sounds far, but having type 1 diabetes has made me a stronger person. I know that if I can manage this disease, I can handle anything.
To donate to Grace’s charity bike ride or watch a short documentary about her, visit midnightthreeandsix.com