“With a diabetes diagnosis, you get a crash course in how to keep your child alive. When Luke was diagnosed in 2011, I was checking his blood sugar levels every two hours. It was overwhelming. I began looking for more resources online, and I found information about diabetic alert dogs,” Nuttal tells Healthline.
As animal lovers, the Nuttals thought a service dog could be a great fit for their family. “Caring for a child with type 1 diabetes is a 24-hour job, and there isn’t a break. I thought a service dog could help us manage the life-changing diagnosis,” she says.
To find a service pet, Nuttal connected with the organization Canine Hope for Diabetics in California,who helped her find the perfect dog. At the time, the organization didn’t have any dogs available for adoption, but gave the family the option to take a puppy into their home, offering Nuttal guidance on how to train him.
That 11-week-old puppy, Jedi, became Luke’s constant companion.
As a service animal, Jedi is trained to do many things that Luke can’t do for himself, like detect changes in his blood sugar levels, get him juice if his blood sugar is too low, and call for help if Luke needs assistance.
Jedi is such a miraculous helper that the Nuttal’s refer to his signals as “The Jedi Alert.” It’s very fitting, since they’re avid “Star Wars” fans.
In fact, Luke was named after Luke Skywalker, and when Nuttal realized they were adopting a little black puppy, they decided to call him Jedi.
Similar to a Jedi master, the beloved dog can sense changes in Luke’s blood sugar levels, communicating his concerns to Nuttal.
“I wear a small, soft tube on my belt, called a brindle. We have the brindles all over the house. It’s a visual clue for Jedi, and if he grabs it, he’s telling me, ‘Mom, you need to check Luke.’”
When Jedi brings Nuttal the brindle, she asks the dog, “What is he?” Jedi bows his head if Luke’s blood sugar level is too low, or waves his paw if it’s elevated.
Nuttal isn’t certain how the dog can read Luke’s blood sugar levels, but she believes it has something to do with a chemical called isoprene. “Jedi can smell this chemical, which is somehow related to blood sugar levels.”
Often, Jedi detects that Luke’s health is in danger before the glucose monitor reports a problem. “The glucose monitor will tell me that Luke’s level is 100 and steady, but then Jedi will alert. I’ll test Luke, and his level might be a 62, which is too low,” says Nuttal.
Luke’s loyal friend helps him enjoy being a kid
Not only is this dog a lifesaver, he’s also Luke’s beloved companion. As a service animal, he accompanies Luke on airplanes, in restaurants, and at school. “Jedi went to Disneyland with Luke, and if Luke goes to the hospital, Jedi goes, too,” says Nuttal.
The duo’s special bond provides a lot of emotional support for Luke. This is vital, since kids living with chronic illnesses can feel isolated from their peers.
Healthy modifications to Luke’s diet help Jedi, too. If Luke’s blood sugar level is high for too long, the dog can stop alerting Nuttal of the fluctuations. “If one’s blood sugar is 200 for a long period, the dog will cease to signal. Also, when they alert, the key is to respond to the signal,” she says.
Not only is this dog a lifesaver, he’s also Luke’s beloved companion.
Nuttal says training Jedi also means making sure that the dog gets enough rest and TLC. “When Seeing Eye dogs take off the vest, they’re not working anymore. With a diabetic alert dog, it’s a 24-hour-a-day job. It’s important to make sure these dogs aren’t burned out.”
The dog may be a Jedi master when it comes to helping Luke, but, like humans, he also needs breaks. “If Jedi walks around Disneyland all day, we know he’s not alerting at night because he needs rest. This is where monitors help,” says Nuttal.
Overall, Jedi has brought much joy to Luke and his family. Along with keeping Luke healthy, the dog’s help lets him spend more time being a kid. Jedi even accompanies Luke to swim and basketball practice.
"The experience has been so positive that Luke is learning to be a handler. “Luke’s starting to do a lot of these things as he gets older,”" – Nuttal
The Nuttals are so committed to educating and helping other kids with diabetes that they’re coming out with a documentary soon.
While having a service dog has allowed the Nuttals to manage Luke’s diabetes, the furry friend has also taught the family about the healing powers of friendship and love.
As told by Dorrie Nuttall to Juli Fraga.
Juli Fraga is a licensed psychologist based in San Francisco, California. She graduated with a PsyD from the University of Northern Colorado and attended a postdoctoral fellowship at UC Berkeley. Passionate about women’s health, she approaches all of her sessions with warmth, honesty, and compassion. You can follow her on Twitter.