RIVER VALE, N.J. – For Brenda Kerr of River Vale, Jax is as much a lifeline as a best friend.
Kerr has Type 1 diabetes.
Jax, a 3-month-old Golden Retriever, is her alert dog.
The two even share the same February birth date.
“To live with Type 1 diabetes is to always play a guessing game,” said Kerr, 24. “How much insulin should I take? It depends on what I eat, if I’m sick, if I have my period, if I’m under stress.”
Kerr takes seven to eight insulin shots a day. Depending on what’s happening at the time, she’ll up her dosage. Keeping just the right sugar levels is key.
A patient can suffer diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a life-threatening condition, when levels spike and insulin is severely lacking. It happened to Kerr when she was 16 and still using an insulin pump.
“There was a kink in the pump cord,” she said. “It was telling me I was getting insulin and I wasn’t.”
Her system started breaking down other body tissue as an alternative source of energy, producing poisonous ketones.
Low levels make a person very drowsy, Kerr said. They can even seem hung over. When Kerr's levels are too low, she sweats profusely.
“One night Jax was walking around the bed and wouldn’t sleep,” Kerr said. “He was clearly agitated.”
Sure enough, her levels were low. As soon as she ate and drank a juice box, Jax snuggled into the bed and feel asleep. He’d done his job.
To date, Kerr has trained Jax on her own. At a certain point, she’ll have to tap professionals, such as those at Diabetic Alert Dogs of America. The cost will be around $20,000.
If Kerr is sleeping and Jax can’t wake her up, he’ll be trained by the pros to hit a life alert button on the bed that will summon police.