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Teagan Riley of Folsom is Tougher than Diabetes

11/03/2015 09:09AM ● Published by Abigail Blank

This past spring, when Cori Riley, single mom to seven-year-old Teagan, noticed her daughter was unusually ill, she rushed her to the emergency room. Cori learned that Teagan was in diabetic ketoacidosis due to type 1 diabetes (T1D) and was dangerously close to being in a diabetic coma. “Hearing those words literally makes your heart skip a beat, and the endless horrible possibilities start streaming through your head,” Cori says. 

For four days, Teagan lay in a hospital bed fighting for her life. Instead of being idle during that time, Cori did diligent research on T1D. “After the initial shock wore off, I didn’t spend time wondering ‘why’ or mourning the loss of her formerly carefree childhood—I went straight into research mode,” explains Cori. “You are literally bombarded by tons of information within a very short period of time.”

Within all of the information about blood sugar levels, testing kits, glucose monitoring devices, insulin pumps and possible complications from T1D, Cori found one piece of information that she knew could bring some normalcy back to Teagan’s life: a diabetic alert dog (DAD). “For the most part, we are a team of two, so Teagan has learned to be very independent and self-sufficient from an early age, which is reflected in her personality,” Cori says. But with this new diagnosis, that independent spirit was at risk of being crushed. 

T1D is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas stops making insulin—a critical component in the body’s ability to maintain even blood sugar levels—meaning those with T1D suffer from extreme swings in blood sugar levels, both high and low. Cori explains, “Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is especially dangerous and can result in unconsciousness, seizures or a coma, which makes the overnight hours even more anxiety-producing for families of T1s, and I’m no exception.” 

The addition of a DAD—which are trained to use their acute sense of smell to detect when minute changes in blood sugar levels occur—would mean that Cori could get a full night’s sleep and Teagan would be able to regain some of her independence and resume normal childhood activities without fear that her health is at risk. “Having an alert dog will help us keep Teagan’s blood sugar within a tighter range for a larger percentage of the day, which greatly reduces the chances of her experiencing these complications as she gets older,” Cori says. While expensive, Cori knows that a DAD is the answer for their family—as both a health resource and a constant companion for Teagan as she learns to navigate life with T1D.

To donate money so Teagan can bring home her DAD-in-training, Ryder, by December 6 (her eighth birthday), visit this link.

Diabetic Alert Dogs (DAD): DID YOU KNOW?

• Diabetic alert dogs are trained for the first six to 18 months of their lives—beginning on the day they’re born. 

• They must be able to detect both high and low blood sugar, as well as pass all the rigorous challenges that standard assist dogs must pass, including behavior in public spaces and obedience. 

• The average working life of a DAD is 10 years (then they are retired from service).

• The part of a dog’s brain that detects smell is 40 times larger than that of humans, meaning a dog can smell one teaspoon of sugar in one million gallons of water. 

• Because of the extensive training needed for diabetic alert dogs, the average cost for one dog is $25,000.

Photo of Ryder by Lily Grace; photo of Teagan by Cori Riley.

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