Diagnosed with Type I diabetes 18 months ago, the Baldwyn girl lives each day riding the highs and lows of her erratic blood sugar but her doctors hope a special furry friend could soon smooth those ups and downs.
The family is in the process of raising money for the first deposit on a diabetic alert dog, a specially trained canine who will be able to alert her to changes in her sugar levels much sooner than even the most tightly regulated traditional testing regimen.
“She just has such extreme fast changes. That's what gets her into trouble,said her mother, Amy Benjamin, a family nurse practitioner who operates the Wheeler Health Clinic.
A year and a half ago the previously healthy child began experiencing extreme exhaustion and intense thirst.
“I was drinking water a lot and I slept a lot and then they started taking me to all these doctors," recalled Lydia.
She was diagnosed with mononucleosis which apparently triggered her body's problems with producing insulin the hallmark of Type I diabetes.
“She lost 18 pounds in a week," said Amy. "They knew they had to do something.”
They were sent to LeBonheur Children's Medical Center in Memphis where she began a journey of learning how to deal with her new condition.
Today she wears a bright pink insulin pump on her hip that supplies insulin without the need for shots as many as five times a day. She pricks her finger multiple times throughout the day to monitor her blood sugar levels, but with the rapid changes she experiences it's often not enough to keep her condition fully in check. When it gets out of hand she can quickly become extremely sick, passing out or vomiting with little warning.
“It's just so fast and even with the machine it can drop faster than the machine can keep up," said Amy.
Catching those rapid changes before they become life-threatening problems is the role of the service dog they soon hope to add to their family. Lydia's doctors at LeBonheur recommended they research diabetes alert dogs and they were astounded with what they found.
“It's just amazing. We didn't know anything about it," said Amy.
Trained first to be obedient service dogs and then to recognize changes in their specific owner's scent undetectable by humans that provide early warning of significant shifts in blood sugar levels, the dogs provide round the clock reassurance for people like Lydia and her family.
“He can pick up on it (a blood sugar spike) 30 minutes before I would," said Lydia."If it's too low or high in the night, he'll jump on the bed or wake momma up. If I'm in my room and can't get up he'll get my orange juice and food I need for me.”
Amy Benjamin said the canine helper will help provide much needed peace of mind and a respite from her constant worry. She said she's always on edge, waiting for the next sign of a problem.
“It's scary," she said. "Even being in the healthcare field, you're a momma first and everything else goes out the window.”
The dog will be trained to work specifically with Lydia using samples of her saliva collected and frozen and then sent to the trainers so the animal can learn his new owner's unique body chemistry. A trainer will then spend three days with the family when the dog arrives to teach them how to work with her new protector.
The canine will be her constant companion and, as a fully certified service dog, will be allowed to go almost anywhere with her including school, restaurants, stores and any other public place.
“He's her lifesaving dog," said Amy.
The family has secured grants from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the American Diabetes Association to offset a significant portion of the $15,000 cost of the animal and its training. However, they must still cover $9,000 of the cost including an initial $2,500 deposit that must be paid before the dog's final training can begin.
Friends have helped them hold bake sales and area churches have assisted, but they're still seeking help to raise funds.
Amy Benjamin said they've been blessed with an accommodating school at East Union where she attends and a community that's stepped up in big ways to help them help her.
“People have been absolutely wonderful," she said.
To learn more about how to help, call 662-255-7420 or 365-0200.