A New Kind of Hero

All photos courtesy of Sydney Sheehan.

All photos courtesy of Sydney Sheehan.

Lia Horyczun ‘16
EE Staff Writer

A best friend looks out for you and does everything in his or her power to keep you safe. Seven-year-old Nathan Zack has a different kind of best friend. Four month old puppy, Nero, keeps his owner safe on a daily basis. Nero is a diabetes alert dog (DAD). He has learned to detect exactly when Nathan’s blood sugar drops severely low or spikes dangerously high.

The Zack family was concerned about their son, Nathan, in May of 2012. Mr. and Mrs. Zack took Nathan to the doctor for a check-up, where he was diagnosed with type I diabetes.

“Our life changed. It was kind of shaky and scary,” Adrienne Zack, Nathan’s mom, said about learning of her son’s diagnosis.

According to Mrs. Zack, some of the first signs of diabetes that Nathan demonstrated were frequent urination, excessive sweating, and getting the shakes. Type I diabetes is characterized by insufficient insulin production and requires daily administration of insulin. Type II diabetes results from the body’s ineffective use of insulin. According to the World Organization of Health Services, an estimated 347 million people worldwide have diabetes.

“Even if you don’t [think] that you know someone with Type I diabetes, you do,” stated Adrienne.

Nathan, who is in first grade at Daniels Farm School, has adjusted well to the diagnosis. He gets three types of insulin a day, and has an insulin pump attached to his back. However, this does not prevent the sudden drops or highs in Nathan’s blood sugar that can occur throughout the day.

This is where Nathan’s diabetes dog, Nero, comes into play. Nathan’s service dog came from Warren Retrievers, an organization that provides diabetes alert dogs to children usually between the ages of 1-5. After an 11-month wait, Nero was introduced to the Zack family.

Nero is much more than just a yellow Labrador. He will whine, whimper, yawn, or paw Nathan or his parents when he senses the changes in his blood sugar. Nero is trained to detect when Nathan’s blood sugar gets below 90 and/or above 200. As a Diabetic Alert Dog, Nero is with Nathan most places he goes.

“He will whine and bark, but we turn these into obedient pawing to alert everyone calmly,” said Phil, the dog breeder and trainer. Overall, integrating Nero into the family will be a two-year process. First, there is a four day in-home integration. This includes feeding the dog a special diet. Some of the items Nero gets are hard-boiled eggs, low-fat Greek yogurt, sweet potatoes and salmon oil, all fed by hand. In addition, the trainer will return to visit the Zack family to assure that the process is going smoothly.

At Trumbull High School, Nathan and Nero demonstrated just how Nero does his job. Nathan first pricked his finger and then held a dog treat in his hand so Nero could smell the blood. Nero instantly warned Nathan and all of his family by whining, barking, or pawing. These signs, not to be disregarded, alerted Nathan’s family to check on his blood sugar.

“When blood sugar is low, one will be very lethargic. There’s a distinct smell and one will be weak,” the trainer clarified. This is something Nero is able to detect and why Nero was chosen. Nero’s nose is extremely sensitive. While Nero is still young, he already does his job exceptionally well.

Excited about their new family member, the Zack’s are trying to raise awareness of this disease. Nathan’s father, who is a fire fighter, said he never noticed service dogs until recently. Just prior to adopting Nero, he came across two service dogs: a bomb-sniffing dog and seeing-eye dog.

“It was almost like it was meant to be,” said Tom Zack.

Nathan, Nero and his family are out to spread the word about Type-1 diabetes. They encourage that people be aware. “We want to know how the dog can better our family and how we can spread the word,” Adrienne Zack concluded.

This article was written with the contributions of Ms. Acerbo’s period 4 journalism class.

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