Beagle Saves Diabetic Owner's Life by Sensing Low Blood Sugar

Mary Kate Cary Health Guide
  • I read this week about Belle, a beagle in Florida, who won an award from the Cellular Telephone Industry for saving his owner’s life by using a cell phone. Apparently Belle’s owner, Kevin Weaver, has “severe diabetes,” which I took to mean hypoglycemic unawareness. Since Kevin can’t sense when his blood sugar is about to drop, he had resigned his job as an airline flight attendant and now works behind a desk. After adopting Belle as a pet, Kevin learned about a program that trains dogs to sense their owners’ blood sugar levels – in the case of high blood sugar, by smelling their breath for ketones (the fruity breath smell), and somehow similarly detecting low blood sugar by smell as well. After nine months of training – costing close to $10,000 – Belle was ready to work as a service dog, staying by Kevin’s side 24/7.
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    A few months into their new life together, Belle sprung into action for the first time. The dog could sense that Kevin’s blood sugar was dropping quickly and began to bark at him. Kevin thought perhaps the dog needed to go out, or wanted to play – maybe because of his blood sugar he was confused – and before long, Kevin was out cold on the floor, having a seizure. It would be another five hours until Kevin’s roommates would be home from work. Belle grabbed Kevin’s cell phone in her mouth and, as trained, pressed the “9” button which was pre-programmed to dial 9-1-1. The dispatcher heard a dog barking and thought it might mean trouble, so sent an ambulance. Kevin awoke in the hospital room and was told by the emergency personnel that he wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for Belle.

    Great story, wonderful dog, life-saving event for Kevin, good P.R. for the cell phone people. But as I was reading about this in the morning paper, all I could think was: Why doesn’t this guy have a continuous blood glucose monitor? A continuous blood glucose monitor would be cheaper and faster than training a dog, and unlike a dog, it would never go to sleep or be sick. He could set the alarm to go off precisely when his blood sugar hits 70, which has got to be more reliable than Belle somehow sensing a lowering of his sugars. Kevin might even be able to go back to his old job. Belle could still stay by his side every day – but now, for all the best reasons.

    One more reason why we need continuous blood glucose monitors to be affordable (or at least covered by insurance), accessible and FDA-approved for everyone with Type I diabetes.

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Published On: July 06, 2006