By Kathy FloydPioneer Sentinel
Blake Fields is living every little boy’s dream. He has a beautiful golden retriever named Ginger that goes everywhere with him — soccer games, school, Scouts. She sleeps at the foot of his bed. But Ginger isn’t just playing the part of a faithful companion. She is on duty. Her job is to watch over Blake and sense what’s going on in his body.
Last August, the Fields — dad Shelby, mom Jessica, Blake and baby sister Sadie — couldn’t make the trip from Lake Arrowhead to Wichita Falls without Blake wanting a drink. “We thought, ‘It’s Texas. It’s hot. That’s why he’s so thirsty,’” Jessica said. But one day Blake’s shorts fell off of him. He had lost 10 pounds. Not normal for a 6-year-old boy.
When doctors told Shelby and Jessica that Blake had diabetes, they couldn’t believe it. Blake was hospitalized while his parents learned how to monitor his blood sugar and give him insulin shots. Nothing would be the same.
November is designated as American Diabetes Month by the American Diabetes Association. Pioneer Sentinel contributor Kathy Floyd has witnessed her husband’s battle with the disease for more than 30 years. She shares her experiences with “Thoughts from one of the statistics.”
Jessica began researching diabetes, learning all she could about how to take care of her boy. Blake now has an insulin pump that gives programmed doses of insulin throughout the day and night. At meal time and other times throughout the day, such as before a soccer game, his parents take his blood sugar and the result is transmitted to his pump. The pump automatically figures a bolus insulin dosage. They allow for the physical activity that Blake has which will burn sugar, such as his soccer, and make sure that they have snacks on hand in case of a low blood sugar. Blake also has a sensor in his abdomen that monitors his blood sugar using the tissue fluid. The reading there is different from that he gets from the blood in a finger stick. Shelby or Jessica still get up at least once during the night to check Blake’s blood sugar.
In her research, Jessica came across some information about diabetic alert dogs, specially trained service dogs that can sense when blood sugar is high or low. Several organizations across the country provide diabetic alert dogs. The Fields found one for Blake through the National Institute for Diabetic Alert Dogs (NIDAD), but the $20,000 cost was more than the family could handle. More than 600 people showed up at a fundraiser dinner earlier this year, and the funds were raised in one night. An auction, bake sale and bracelet sales also helped cover costs. “The community has been great,” Jessica said. The family went to the NIDAD training center in Las Vegas and met Ginger.
With her sensitive, trained sense of smell, Ginger can sniff the changes in Blake’s body chemistry as his blood sugar changes. She paws at him to let him know that he needs to check his sugar with his meter. Jessica said that Ginger is almost always ahead of the sensor in alerting them to a high or low.
Ginger gets rewards when she senses Blake’s blood sugar is off. That keeps her motivated and on her toes to do what she’s trained to do. At home, she gets time to run, play and be a dog. She fetches and loves to be petted, but petting is not recommended when she is on the job or she could get distracted from her mission. Even at a rowdy soccer game, when the ball goes out of bounds right past her with a herd of boys chasing after it, she didn’t move from her spot at Shelby’s feet. She didn’t even look up. But like any pet, she takes responsibility. “She’s almost like another child, but she’s the well-behaved child of the family,” Jessica said. The Fields say that Blake understands his responsibilities with Ginger and that he does a good job of taking care of her.
At Henrietta Elementary School, where Blake is in the first grade, Ginger lays at his desk. On the first day of school, teachers held an assembly to tell the kids about Ginger and the job she does.
“Everyone at school has been wonderful,” Jessica said.
In one sense, Jessica thinks that they may be lucky that the onset of Blake’s diabetes has happened while he was so young. That way he will have grown up with it, and she hopes that the nuts and bolts of diabetic care will be hard habits to break when he is older.
And while he is still a typical little boy in most ways, Blake has had to grow up fast to understand why he has to stick his finger and why he has to have insulin pumped into his body. He is learning that his diabetes is not something that will go away. “He asked me one day if he would still have diabetes when he was an old man,” Jessica said. But she is optimistic — she’s more than optimistic, she’s certain — that during Blake’s lifetime, something major will break in the treatment and cure of diabetes. Until then, Blake has parents who will watch over him. He has technology in his pump, meter and sensor. And he has Ginger.