Good Cause: Teen raising funds for diabetes-sniffing dog

Kelsey Romanowski checks her blood sugar, an ongoing task her family has adapted to since she was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at age four. She is seeking a diabetes alert dog trained to alert her when her blood sugar goes out of range.  |  Submitted
Kelsey Romanowski checks her blood sugar, an ongoing task her family has adapted to since she was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at age four. She is seeking a diabetes alert dog trained to alert her when her blood sugar goes out of range. | Submitted
Michelle Linn-Gust
For Sun-Times Media
July 29 3:05 p.m.
How to help

What: Garage sale and T-shirt sale to offset the cost of a diabetes alert dog for Kelsey Romanowski.

When: 2 to 8 p.m. Aug. 2; 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Aug. 7 and 8

Where: 1139 Lakeside Court, Naperville

Contact: Email lgfghair@gmail.com to donate items for the garage sale

For more information: Visit www.youcaring.com/kelseysdiabeticalertdog

Heads up Hounds: Learn more at www.headsuphounds.com

Kelsey Romanowski is used to the nightly pricks in her finger to check her blood sugar. The Neuqua Valley High School sophomore was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when she was 4 years old. Keeping her blood sugar in range is a constant battle.

“My daughter’s pancreas doesn’t work,” said her mother, Cindy, recognizing that people often confuse Type I diabetes with Type 2.

In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce insulin whereas in Type 2 diabetes the body does not use insulin properly.

While Kelsey was diagnosed very young, it hasn’t kept her from leading an active life riding horses, rock climbing, and eating anything she wants as long as she does it in moderation. But it has meant the constant checking of her blood sugar, about every two hours, since there is no cure for the disease.

Because of that, Kelsey rarely spends the night at a friend’s house, and if she does, she usually stays up all night.

“No one wants that responsibility if she crashes during the night,” said Cindy, understanding the challenge. “This is not typical, but this is our normal. We do what we have do to and don’t think about it. We would go crazy if we did think about it.”

The 15-year-old hopes one thing will help life seem more normal. She is raising $6,500 to receive a diabetes alert dog, which would be trained via scent to know 20 minutes before Kelsey’s blood sugar goes out of range. The dog will come from Heads Up Hounds in Nebraska.

Kelsey read about the diabetes alert dogs and researched the possibility of getting one. She chose Heads Up Hounds in Nebraska because the business uses rescue dogs rather than a breeder.

“It’s another tool for us,” Cindy said of getting the dog.

The canine that Kelsey will eventually receive will be trained to know her scent and alert her when her blood sugar is out of range. That hopefully will mean no more trips to the hospital.

“My mom won’t have to look over my shoulder,” Kelsey said. “The dog will go with me everywhere.”

For Kelsey, it means greater independence as she looks forward to college in a few years.

They have entered into a contract for the dog, costing $6,500 (the price has since gone up to $7,500). And because their insurance has denied paying for the dog, the family is fundraising to raise the rest of the funds. They have $2,200 already collected.

According to Jamie Cook, the director of client and shelter relations, the typical cost of a medical alert dog is upwards of $20,000, but by using shelter dogs rather than purebreds, they can bring the cost down.

“We start with dogs who are adults,” said Cook of saving on the costs of having to raise a puppy into adulthood. “It’s a lot easier to fundraise for $7,500 (than $20,000).”

The dogs are trained using scent from the person they will be helping. It takes about four months to train each dog. At any one time, Heads Up Hounds has six dogs undergoing training, and in the past year, they placed 13 dogs.

“My life is 24/7 dogs,” Cook said, acknowledging that the dogs live at her family’s home. “There are dogs everywhere, and I’m never not working. When I get burned out, I get a message from a family saying this is the first time their kid hasn’t had to have their finger pricked 15 times in a day.”

She knows she is helping to change a child’s perspective on having diabetes, too.

“I save a dog’s life,” Cook said. “I save a kid’s life. They get a best friend, and there is something about the disease that isn’t painful but is happy.”

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How to help

What: Garage sale and T-shirt sale to offset the cost of a diabetes alert dog for Kelsey Romanowski.

When: 2 to 8 p.m. Aug. 2; 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Aug. 7 and 8

Where: 1139 Lakeside Court, Naperville

Contact: Email lgfghair@gmail.com to donate items for the garage sale

For more information: Visit www.youcaring.com/kelseysdiabeticalertdog

Heads up Hounds: Learn more at www.headsuphounds.com

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