Our introduction occurred after Kayla applied for a position at the horse farm that I was currently working at. It just so happened that the position was for MY job - that she would take over for me. All I had to do was train her. I quickly learned that she was BORN for this job - working with children, helping with horseback riding lessons, prepping the horses - she was a natural.
There was just one problem --- DIABETES.
Kayla was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when she was 6 years old. You may be more familiar with Type 2 Diabetes, which is often diagnosed much later in life and is almost always due to inadequate diet/exercise. Type 1 (T1DM) is an entirely different beast. It is considered an autoimmune disease, which means that her body LITERALLY attacks itself. In T1DM, specifically, at six years old, her body targeted and destroyed her pancreas. You have to have a well-working pancreas to survive. The pancreas is mainly responsible for making insulin. Insulin has to be around in order for our bodies to use the food (sugar/carbohydrates) we eat, to make energy. It acts like a key in a lock to open doors and let our sugars inside. Without insulin, we die. It is that simple.
Kayla struggled through life, battling her disease the best she knew how. She stumbled at times, through depression, drugs/alcohol, thoughts of suicide, car accidents due to severe, sudden low blood sugars, and honestly, sometimes just didn't take care of herself. She, for a short period, let diabetes win. Then a friend stepped up back in 2015 and helped save Kayla's life by helping her realize that she was worth it. She found her purpose again, her spirit. She entered the ring: Kayla vs. T1DM and conquered it. Kayla gained such good control, her blood sugars made it look like she didn't have diabetes! She was on the road of recovery.
But something happened to Kayla's diabetes in December of 2017, right before she started her new job. She became what is known as 'brittle' - a term that we use to describe very difficult-to-control diabetes. Kayla would experience huge swings in her blood sugar, within in minutes, her sugar number could go from 325 and plummet to 40.
Normal blood sugars are 80 - 120. If her sugar went below 80, she would experience anything from shakiness, sweating, mood swings (strong irritability, crying, etc.), numbness, or extreme tiredness. If it would drop below 55, she could lose vision, slur her words, have intense anxiety, become delirious (lose track of where she was, what she was doing, hallucinate), pass out, have seizures, or die. Low blood sugars put her at a very high risk of falls, injuries, and car accidents.
High blood sugar (> 180) is just as dangerous. Over time, high blood sugar damages EVERY SINGLE organ system in the body - it will destroy nerves, blood vessels, kidneys, eyes, etc. At just 26 years old, Kayla suffers from gastroparesis and other autonomic neuropathies (look them up) - trust me, they suck. Simple infections (like a bladder infection) can hospitalize her. Extremely high blood sugars can also put her in the hospital, put her in a coma, or kill her in a matter of hours.
Kayla's diabetes became debilitating.
Over the past 9 months, we have done anything and everything we can think of to regain the control she lost. She tried to use special diets for those with gastroparesis (irregular function of her stomach and intestines), she changed her insulin schedules, to try to prevent highs/lows, and she even got a continuous glucose monitor (CGM - aka "BabyDex" because he cries ALL the time) which tells her what her sugar is constantly and warns her of upcoming highs/lows. She also has a team of people that help her manage her diabetes and keep her safe. At work, she has her boss, coworkers, and lessons kids to watch out for her. At home, I am on duty via mobile devices 1.5 hours away. We talk at least once a day and she will text me if she is alone somewhere and has a very low blood sugar. That way, if she doesn't respond at our agreed upon time interval, I know to call 911.
Sounds like a solid, flawless plan, right? That's what we thought too...
A few months back, Kayla had a severe low - her sugar plummeted so hard and so fast that she didn't even realize it had happened. She was alone at the barn at night feeding horses. Her anxiety flooded her mind and told her to "go home NOW". She stopped feeding the horses, stumbled to her car, and tried to drive home.
She flipped her car into a ditch that night, on the side of the highway, after suffering from a diabetic seizure. When the police/EMS found her, her sugar was 27. TWENTY SEVEN. She should have been dead.
Luckily, no other people were involved in the accident and Kayla escaped her vehicle with minor injuries. After a short physical recovery, it took months for Kayla to get past the PTSD of that night. It haunts her to this day. She would never, in her right mind, get behind the wheel of a car with a low sugar. But she did - and that terrifies her.
That brings me to the purpose of this fundraiser. My mission is to add a new member to Kayla's diabetic team - one that can ALWAYS be with her and help her through those severe lows that put her in such danger. I want to acquire Kayla a Diabetic Alert Dog (DAD).
Diabetic Alert Dogs are selected and trained for only ONE individual. Like 'drug dogs', they are trained to use their nose to identify certain smells. In this case, the smell would be the odors only Kayla puts off when her blood sugar is dropping or rising. Gotta love pheromones! The dog will then be trained to alert Kayla in various ways and to keep her safe, especially when she is alone or asleep.
Help from a DAD would be essential for 3 main tasks - (1) retrieval of snacks/juice, (2) arousal, and (3) calling 911.
(1) During a low, if Kayla is conscious and/or aware of the low, and the effects of the low prevent her from getting it herself, she would ask her DAD to go get a snack or juice box to get sugar in her ASAP. Quick treatment of low blood sugar is vital to avoid more severe symptoms.
(2) In the event that either the snack/juice doesn't work, Kayla's low causes delirium, or she is sleeping, the dog would be trained to arouse her by barking, jumping on her, etc. in an attempt to wake her up. This is especially important when she is sleeping. Low sugar during sleep puts Kayla at an even higher risk of death because her body is unable to process what is happening to a greater extent compared to awake lows.
(3) Finally, in the case of an emergency, if the dog cannot wake Kayla up, he/she will be trained to go find help, either by barking, physically finding someone and leading them to Kayla, or actually calling 911 (on a device similar to the life-alert button).
All of these acts by a DAD can help save Kayla's life.
Kayla's DAD will not replace her CGM or her insulin, but having a dog around that is trained specifically to sense low/high blood sugars and alert her, will fill the gap in her care that she has been struggling with and provide more security and peace of mind for Kayla and her entire team.
DADs are registered service dogs, which can accompany Kayla during ALL activities and in ALL locations. Which means that this dog must undergo extensive training that can take 6-18 months alone. The average cost for a fully-trained alert dog is $20,000! Non-for-profit DAD organizations generally have wait lists of 5+ years to acquire a dog for free or at a reduced cost.
Kayla doesn't have 5 years to wait - she needs your help NOW!
Kayla is one of the most positive and strong-willed persons I have ever met. Despite her unfathomable battle with this disease, she still has the biggest smile on her face and will make jokes and act like a 6 year-old, even if she can't feel her legs at the time because her sugar is THAT low (yes, this actually happened). I have personally watched her do manual labor at work for 4+ hours on a blood sugar of 45. I am constantly in awe of her unimaginable strength that she possesses, no matter what life throws at her.
The running joke is that she is ALWAYS DYING. Despite how sadly true that statement is, she still seems to find the beauty in everything around her. She finds beauty in nature, all animals, the people around her, and most importantly, herself.
If anyone is deserving of help, it is Kayla.
I am hoping to raise funds so I can help provide her with the 'fluffy' security that she deserves. Please consider donating to this important, life-saving cause.
I sincerely thank you for reading Kayla's story.