By Jordan Holloway
For someone like Bree Reed, getting behind the wheel becomes a danger to herself and others if she is impaired. But her impairment isn’t the type most people would think of.
Reed was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes on May 23, 2013, a few weeks after her thirteenth birthday. Every day Reed must check her blood sugar and remember to take an insulin bolus whenever she eats. Unfortunately, over the past few years, Reed lost the ability to sense when her sugar levels fell. Low sugar levels could lead to hypoglycemia, a dangerous condition to be in while driving.
One morning, Reed was driving to her high school, unaware that her blood sugar was extremely low. As she approached the road to her school, Reed began to swerve. She started to lose consciousness behind the wheel and nearly struck a tree. Thankfully, she was unharmed.
“I was extremely thankful I was OK, and I didn’t hit or injure anyone else,” Reed said. “But this incident really put into perspective that I needed something that would prevent these dangerous lows from happening, and myself not knowing it.”
She spoke with her doctors, but they did not have much to offer in terms of prevention. They recommended adjusting her carb to insulin ratio, and the insulin basal rates she received throughout the day.
“At the time, I had all the recommended tools to help me combat this disease,” she said. “I had an insulin pump. I had a CGM (continuous glucose monitor). I had updated settings in my pump which my physicians provided.”
Reed thought she was doing everything she could to keep herself safe and healthy. Until she learned about a new furry therapy.
The assistance of man’s best friend.
For years, dogs were trained and used as assistance animals for people with disabilities. Examples include guide dogs for the blind, and psychiatric dogs for veterans with PTSD. Today, dogs are trained to assist diabetic individuals thanks to their great sense of smell, which allows them to detect high and low blood sugars.
Reed received a gift from her aunt in Nov. 2019, a 1-year-old Australian Cobberdog, named Bodhi. After learning about the amazing assistance that dogs could provide for people with diabetes, Reed wanted to train Bodhi to be her Diabetic Alert Dog.
“Because of all of my concerns about losing the ability to feel my blood sugars dropping and just learning about the ability dogs had to smell fluctuating glucose levels, I thought receiving Bodhi was kind of ironic and an opportunity I needed to jump on, especially as I moved away from home to come to Carolina,” she said.
Bodhi began his training that same year, and finished his training in Aug. 2020. When he came to live with Reed full time, Reed felt a weight lift from her shoulders. Bodhi gave Reed a sense of security and allowed her to spend more time focusing on things she enjoyed, without having to worry about her blood sugar levels.
“Living with this disease for eight years, I now have a better understanding of how my body works, and what I need to do on any given day to make sure I am at my best and having Bodhi by my side each day helps to make that even more possible,” Reed said.
A dog brings comfort
Bodhi not only serves as a lifeline for Reed, he also provides a feeling of reassurance for Reed’s parents, Scott and Stacey Reed.
“Knowing that no matter if Bree is in class, at her apartment or out with friends, Bodhi is by her side, ready to alert her if the need arises,” Scott said. “That gives me a sense of comfort, like no other, when she is hours away from home.”
“The first night that Bodhi stayed with her, I think was the first time that I actually got a full night’s sleep,” Stacey added. “It gives me a great sense of comfort knowing that something is watching out for her. He’s also just super cute, so that is also comforting.”
For Scott and Stacey, fretting about their daughter 24/7 for the past 8 years has become the norm. They are constantly worried about Reed not knowing her glucose levels are dropping or that an accident similar to the high school one could occur again. However, Bodhi is able to detect the change in levels fifteen minutes before her CGM is able to.
“It is crazy to think that this dog is able to outsmart and outwork a piece of technology,” Scott stated. “But it is not crazy when he belongs to our daughter. It truly is life changing and an added piece of comfort for us as her family.”
Teamwork makes the dream work.
Reed graduated from UNC in Dec. 2020, and is currently getting her master’s in social work at UNC Charlotte.
Jessica Martin, a friend and classmate of Reed, met her and Bodhi on the first day of class, and was amazed by the life-saving assistance that Bodhi provided. Martin believes that Bodhi is a blessing for Reed as he helps her live life to the fullest while protecting her.
“Whether seeing them in class or walking around on campus, it just puts a smile on my face knowing that even though Bree has a life-threatening disease, she is able to live a semi-normal life because of the great teamwork that her and Bodhi have,” Martin said.
Edited by Peitra Knight