Catching a low sample.

Making Sense of Scents

Posted: December 4, 2019 by Rachael

Our diabetic alert dog Jarvis, is moving right along in his training. He is now ready for the next phase of scent training but it requires spit; lots and lots of spit. More specifically, saliva samples from our three children with type 1 diabetes. You may recall from a previous post how Jarvis is being trained to recognize changing levels of isoprene on the breath. These levels change depending on how high or low blood sugar is in the body. Jarvis however needs to recognize more than the isoprene alone. Having three kids in the house with type 1 means isoprene is most likely present on some level at all times. Jarvis needs to recognize the isoprene, determine if it is at a dangerous level and then identify which person it is coming from based on their specific hormones and body chemistry. No pressure Jarvis!

Our collection kit.

Last week our saliva collection kit arrived. It contained an igloo cooler with ice packs, cotton balls and 21 jars all labeled with individual names and blood sugar ranges. Every time the kids have blood sugar within a specific range they suck on a piece of cotton and spit it into the jar. The jars are kept in the freezer until we have collected 20 to 30 samples in each jar. When we have finished filling all the jars we will pack it all up and overnight it to our trainer (Lily Grace) in Idaho. She will then train Jarvis through all the different ranges, one kid at a time.

At first the process seemed simple and the boys especially, were excited to collect samples. What boy doesn’t love a reason to spit? But the process has proven more challenging than we initially thought. One of the side effects of high blood sugar can be dry mouth. This makes it harder to produce enough saliva to saturate a piece of cotton. Even though the kids are only sucking on a pea size piece at a time, they are only able to get a couple before they “dry up”.

Catching a low sample.
Catching a low sample.

The second challenge has been low blood sugar samples. The lowest sample range we need to collect is a blood sugar between 50-60. Low blood sugar feels awful. Really, really awful. When my kids have a blood sugar that low they get shaky, dizzy, sweaty, panicky and really hungry. Hunger is a good response because it triggers the body to eat and bring blood sugar back up. Low blood sugar is the most dangerous in the short term so it is important to treat it with food quickly but it is also important that Jarvis get a good sample uncontaminated by food. Low blood sugar is when we will need his nose to be the most accurate and we want it to be as “clean” as possible.  Putting off eating for a minute in order to collect saliva while having a blood sugar in the 50’s has caused some panicky moments but we have been able to do it (very quickly). We still have quite a few samples to collect before we are finished but we are slowly filling our quota.

Getting our kit and having a task to complete for service dog training has made us even more anxious to bring Jarvis home. We still have at least 5 months before Jarvis will be ready to join us but the time is going fast. If you have prayed for us, donated to our fundraisers, encouraged us with cards, notes and words, THANK YOU! We covet all of it and are grateful for your generosity and thoughtfulness. We are approximately 2/3 of the way to our financial goal to pay for Jarvis. If you would like to make a donation click here. As always thank you for reading my blog and stay tuned for more updates as we get closer to the time Jarvis will come home.

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