Alert dog is lifesaving companion for Charleston girl

Published: Jun. 5, 2013 at 2:13 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 5, 2013 at 9:17 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - About 15,000 children and 15,000 adults are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in the U.S. every year. In total, about three million Americans are living with the disease. The T1D community in Charleston isn't large, but we caught up with two Type 1 diabetics who are united not only by their shared disease, but also in their effort to raise awareness, and it was a dog that brought the two together.

Kate Hanchon now enjoys life like any other 8-year old Charleston girl. But life was much different for Kate and her family not so long ago. Kate was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 5-years old and her father Tim describes the life-changing diagnosis. "Imagine being rushed from the doctor to MUSC into the intensive care unit," he said. "It was a pretty scary ordeal."

T1D is an auto-immune disease in which a person's pancreas stops producing insulin. The disorder isn't caused by diet or lifestyle, and as of now, there is no cure. Living with T1D means constant monitoring of the patient's blood sugar levels. If Kate's level gets too high, her body could go into seizure. If her blood sugar drops too low, Kate could slip into a coma. This leads to constant monitoring by Kate's parents. But now, Tim and Tanya Hanchon have a new set of eyes (or nose) on Kate at all times.

After help from community, the Hanchons raised about $20,000 to pay for Sprinkels, Kate's new Diabetic Alert Dog. Now, Sprinkels is there to monitor Kate's blood sugar levels and alert her and her parents if something is wrong. Tanya tells us "It eases a parent's mind to know that there is something else watching. Something else that's not a machine,something we can't detect, that can watch over Kate and let us know when something is going wrong."

Sprinkels is specially trained. According to Tanya, Sprinkels can smell a teaspoon of sugar in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. If Kate's blood sugar is too high, she will smell sweet to Sprinkels and the dog will nudge Kate with her nose. If that level drops too low, the smell turns bitter and Sprinkels will begin to paw at Kate.

The addition of Sprinkels has been life-changing for the Hanchons, especially Kate. The young girl and her dog also caught the attention of a local author, Laura Fogarty. The writer, who is a Type 1 Diabetic herself, was interested in telling the story of Kate and Sprinkels.

"I asked her mom if we could write a book together," Fogarty said. "So I wrote the book and Kate did the illustrations."

Fogarty hopes the children's book can raise awareness about T1D. She finished it last month and plans to have a book signing with Kate at Blue Bicycle Books, June 11 from 3-5 PM.

Tanya says it has been amazing to have someone like Laura take an interest in Kate and become a mentor for the young girl. Laura says the connection with Kate was surprising.

Fogarty says "I never thought I'd have such an instant friendship with an 8-year old. We share a spirit of hope, we share a silly energetic nature, and we're both working to raise money for JDRF so we can find a cure."

You can find out more about Kate and Sprinkels and the book on the website, and purchase her book here.

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