POST FALLS — A boy and his dog have a special bond.
That’s what Camdyn Thompson is counting on. He and his family are raising money to buy a specially-trained medical alert dog that can tell the precocious first-grade graduate if his blood sugar is too high or too low.
The Post Falls 7-year-old was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes two and a half years ago, in November 2016, when he was just 4 years old. It was during the Thanksgiving holiday, said his parents, Wade and Terina Thompson.
Wade came home after a day of hunting to find his son thirsty, irritated and refusing to eat. The Thompsons headed to the doctor, thinking Camdyn had contracted an infection like strep throat from a friend. It didn’t take long at urgent care for mom and dad to learn the difficult news that their winsome little boy, the fourth of their five children, had become a statistic. After doctors ran a few tests, Wade and Terina were told Camdyn was one of an estimated 193,000 Americans under age 20 with the disease, according to data from the American Diabetes Association.
Type 1 diabetes is sometimes referred to as “juvenile-onset diabetes,” as it tends to emerge in a person’s youth. For reasons not yet understood but thought to be related to genetics, beta cells in the pancreas stop producing insulin, a hormone that allows the body to metabolize sugar.
Type 1 diabetics must take insulin injections or use an insulin pump to deliver the vital medicine. Preventing highs and lows and consistently maintaining blood-glucose levels within the normal range of 80 to 150 milligrams per deciliter is key to wellness and avoiding long-term complications that can affect, among other things, vision, kidney function and cardiac health.
That’s where the dog comes in.
Camdyn’s treatment relies on an insulin pump, which delivers a baseline dose of the medicine 24 hours a day. Additional “bolus” doses are delivered as needed to counteract the carbohydrates in food Camdyn eats. The pump connects to a stretchable plastic tube that’s inserted under the skin into subcutaneaous fat and held in place by an adhesive. This part of the pump, called the infusion set, is disposable and must be changed every few days.
In addition to the pump, Camdyn also uses a device called a continuous glucose monitor, which has a sensor, also under the skin, that tests the amount of sugar in his blood every few seconds and relays the reading to Camdyn’s insulin pump, which adjusts his basal dose as needed, and also beams the number to his mom’s and dad’s cell phones so they’re always aware of their son’s condition.
While these advances have dramatically improved the care of diabetes, the technology — as good as it is — isn’t perfect. It can fail. The dog will offer peace of mind and will become a key part of Camdyn’s care as he grows older and learns to manage his condition on his own.
“By [age] 10 and 12 he will be sharp and know what to do,” his father said. “I want him to be self-sufficient.”
On June 8, and again this past week, Camdyn ran a lemonade stand to raise money for his medical alert dog, which will cost at least $10,000. Neighbors, friends and strangers dropped by to support him. The take was a considerable sum last Saturday, $3,481. But that wasn’t all. The next day a man who said he lost his wife to diabetes dropped off $100. The postman put a gift in the family’s mailbox. More people gave via PayPal, an online payments processor.
“That’s what community is about,” Wade said. “It’s just heartfelt and unconditional. It means a lot to the community and it means a lot to us.”
Camdyn has three older brothers, ages 15, 12 and 10, as well as a younger sister, who just turned 1. Terina and Wade wake up every two hours, taking turns to get up in the middle of the night to check on Camdyn.
“At night it seems to be the toughest time because everyone is sleeping and that’s the toughest time to balance it,” Wade said, “because he is not eating, he’s not burning sugar and he’s not eating food, so night time is the hardest.”
Managing one family member’s blood sugar takes an effort — or at least oversight — by the whole family. The other kids have learned more and more about their brother’s disease. Wade said Camdyn’s older brothers understand what could happen if Camdyn’s blood sugar falls too low — a condition called hypoglycemia — or too high, which doctors call hyperglycemia. Both require immediate treatment and mean one of the kids has to let their folks know that Camdyn needs help. The medical alert dog will add an extra layer of protection.
Having a diabetic child exacts an emotional cost beyond lost sleep. It’s also a significant burden on the family budget. Camdyn’s insulin pump, his infusion sets, the sensors for his blood-sugar monitor and certainly the cost of insulin all add up. The Thompsons say they spend about $1,500 out of pocket — that is, in addition to what insurance covers — every three months. That doesn’t include periodic doctor visits or a laboratory test called a hemoglobin A1C, which offers a reading on a diabetic’s long-term control.
“We are trying to save up money to get a diabetes alert dog because it knows his numbers better than any of the technology,” Terina said. “When he is low, when he is high, the dog would be great to make sure he is OK.”
Alert dogs are trained to respond to medical emergencies such as epilectic seizures and low or high blood sugar. Dogs for diabetics are trained to notify their humans before they experience hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia, according to Diabetic Alert Dogs of America. The dogs are trained to react to chemical changes produced from high or low blood sugar, which a dog’s acute sense of smell can detect. Service Dogs for America says training for these dogs varies: Some programs last six to eight months; others last as long as a year.
Wade said the family has been doing garage sales and lemonade stands for two years now, saving money for a dog. Terina said the dogs cost from $10,000 to $12,000 depending on the vendor. For his part in the family fundraising efforts, Camdyn makes an appearance to sell lemonade and bottled water.
Dylan Anderson and his 9-year-old daughter Bree stopped by after seeing a post on the Northwest Type 1 Diabetes Facebook page. Bree attends Greensferry Elementary with Camdyn and also has Type 1.
“[Bree’s] mom, my wife, saw the Facebook post and so we went to find the address and knew we had to stop by,” Dylan said.
The Thompsons expressed their appreciation for the help they’ve received. They “really appreciate the staff at the school, all these people that have been around him,” Wade said. They’ve been “very helpful with all of their students who need a little of this and a little of that to feel normal.”
Wade said a number of people and organizations had stopped by to show their support. Camdyn said his favorite was a group of motorcyclists, the Kindred Spirits Against Diabetes Motorcycle Organization.
“I liked the motorcycles because they are fast and cool and that kind of stuff,” Camdyn said.
The Post Falls Police Department, Kootenai County Fire and Rescue, neighbors and Facebook followers all have stopped by to help a neighbor in need.
Wade and Terina have set up a PayPal account to accept donations at firstname.lastname@example.org