How Luke and His Dog Jedi Fight Against Type 1 Diabetes

Some dogs sleep peacefully by your side at night. Some dogs nudge you and disturb your sleep. When an English black lab named Jedi wakes Dorrie Nuttall from a sound sleep, she doesn’t complain. The dog is doing exactly what he was trained to do.

Jedi is a diabetes alert dog (DAD). His job is to watch over Dorrie’s 7-year-old son Luke who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age two. Luke and Jedi have been together for three and a half years.

In a Facebook post last March, Dorrie wrote about an incident in which Jedi woke her in the night. After checking Luke’s continuous glucose monitor (CGM), which registered a steady 100, Dorrie was set to take a “wait and see” approach. Jedi would not have it. A finger prick revealed Luke was actually at 57 and Jedi’s behavior indicated it was dropping fast.

“Luke was laying right next to me, just inches from me, and without Jedi I would have had no idea that he was dropping out of a safe range. His CGM should have caught up and alerted in the next 20 minutes or so and I had an alarm set for an hour from then to get up and check, but he would have been much lower. Jedi’s early alerts help us prevent dangerous situations,” she wrote.

That post went viral and so did the story about a dog named Jedi who saved the life of a boy named Luke. In a phone interview, Dorrie told me that was a bit of an overstatement. That’s because when you have type 1 diabetes, fluctuating blood sugar levels are a fact of life. Jedi’s alerts are not uncommon. “They’re not all emergencies — we could go insane if they were,” she said. “The whole point is to catch it before it becomes life threatening.”

The blood sugar highs and lows don’t mean you’ve done something wrong, explained Dorrie. It’s just that the human body is complicated and doesn’t necessarily respond the same way every day.

Jedi, a Dog with a Job

Jedi uses his sense of smell to track Luke’s blood sugar levels. It’s such a powerful skill that he can probably sense other people’s blood sugar levels, too, but he’s trained to focus on Luke. He is rewarded only when he alerts to Luke’s highs and lows.

Luke’s target level is between 80 and 150. When Luke is 90 and falling, or 150 and rising, Jedi springs into action. He grabs a stuffed tube called a “bringsel” and brings it to Luke’s parents. The family has several bringsels around the house. They attach one to a belt when they’re out. From there, Luke’s parents can take the appropriate action.

There’s also a huge emotional component. With Jedi around, Luke need never feel alone. The two are constant companions.

Jedi goes just about everywhere with Luke, even when the family travels on vacation. One place he doesn’t go is school. Not because Jedi couldn’t handle it, but because the first grader isn’t quite ready for the responsibility. Receiving an alert is one thing — taking the correct action is another. It also takes some training to handle a dog like Jedi. For now, Luke relies on his CGM to send alerts to his parents, who can then alert the school nurse. That will do until Luke is old enough to be Jedi’s handler.

Jedi watching over Luke

Image credit: Dorrie Nuttall

Diabetic Alert Dogs: Training is Forever…or you end up with a pet

“A diabetic alert dog is not right for everybody,” said Dorrie. “You have to be able to work with them. For some people, it’s a wonderful thing, especially if you like dogs, but it’s a lot of work. They need to be trained to have an actual task, a clear way to tell if there’s a problem.”

Dorrie is concerned that people will read her family’s story and want to run right out and get a DAD. Her advice is to learn all you can first. It’s definitely not for every family — and it doesn’t mean you’ll sleep any more soundly. In fact, you’re likely to wake up more often. She also shared these tips:

  • Service animals are usually not covered by health insurance, and they can be costly.
  • You have to make sure they have proven alert abilities, health clearances and have hundreds of hours of public exposure. They should be trained specifically to work with families.
  • DADs aren’t ready for work right away. You have to work as a team, so you need training, too.
  • Many dogs that start training don’t make it through the process. Sometimes they’re better suited to a different task and sometimes they just don’t have the personality to be a service animal.
  • You might find yourself on a waiting list for a year or two.
  • Training is forever — or you end up with a pet.

DADs are kind of new on the scene, so Dorrie suggests conducting thorough research before going forward.

“On top of all that, you still have to think about diabetes all the time. DADs are amazing tools and can help in so many ways. Jedi catches things meters don’t catch, but it’s not something everybody could or should have. It works for our family,” said Dorrie.

“Has Jedi saved Luke’s life? I don’t know, but he has prevented some very scary situations,” she continued. “I don’t want to downplay it. Dogs do save lives.”

What Dorrie wants to covey to other parents is that type 1 diabetes is serious. Any child can get it. When it goes undiagnosed, children can die, as is documented on the Facebook page Kisses for Kycie.

Luke and Jedi sleeping

Image credit: Dorrie Nuttall

Save a Life: Recognize the Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes

According to JDRF, symptoms of type 1 diabetes can be mistaken for the flu or other common illnesses. Knowing the warning signs could save a life:

  • extreme thirst
  • frequent urination
  • drowsiness and lethargy
  • sugar in urine
  • sudden vision changes
  • increased appetite
  • sudden weight loss
  • fruity, sweet, or wine-like odor on breath
  • heavy, labored breathing
  • stupor or unconsciousness

Contact your doctor immediately if your child has symptoms of type 1 diabetes.

Look for the upcoming documentary: “Luke & Jedi”

You can follow Luke and Jedi on Facebook: Saving Luke—Luke and Jedi—Fighting Type 1 Diabetes Together. Jedi was trained by the nonprofit Canine Hope for Diabetics. For more information about type 1 diabetes visit jdrf.org or diabetes.org

Related:

Image credit: Dorrie Nuttall

172 comments

Jim V
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for sharing.

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Jennifer F
Jennifer F1 years ago

I had to read this one and watch the video again. Service dogs are absolutely fantastic!

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for sharing.

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joan silaco
joan s1 years ago

to the woman below, its not about your mr. mojo! its about a boy and his dog! idiot!

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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maria reis
maria reis1 years ago

My hero. Good Lucky for them.

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Twila H.
Twila H1 years ago

Great story! Jedi Rocks! Thanks for sharing!

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Joy T.
Joy T1 years ago

I *HEART* Luke!

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Janis K.
Janis K1 years ago

Dogs rule!

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Joseph V.
Joseph V1 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

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