A $21,000 alert dog could change lives of 3-year-old's family in Carnegie

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Sarah and Michael Mangan of Carnegie, the parents of four children ranging in age from 8 years to 8 months, thought Lucia, their 2-year-old, was suffering from the flu in March.

"I was giving her Pedialyte, Gatorade and ginger ale," Mrs. Mangan said, recalling that she was doing whatever she could to quench her daughter's thirst.

Instead, the beverages elevated Lucia's blood sugar to levels of more than 1,000.

Four days after the flu-like symptoms began, Lucia was taken to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

She was in diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition that can lead to diabetic coma or even death. Lu Lu, her nickname, was lethargic and "looked like a skeleton" when she arrived at the hospital, Mrs. Mangan said.

"I don't think I've even slept since she was diagnosed with type 1," said Mrs. Mangan, who said she frequently is awake at night checking on her daughter and worrying if the youngster sleeps too late in the morning.

That's where having a diabetic alert dog comes in.

An effort is underway to purchase a trained canine to cut back on the number of times Lucia would have to test on a daily basis and allow Mrs. Mangan to sleep through the night.

A charity hockey game will be held at 2 p.m. Aug. 26 at Robert Morris University Island Sports Center on Neville Island to help raise funds for the alert dog.

Showing off her medic alert bracelet adorned with beads and a 3-D SpongeBob SquarePants figure was not a problem, but when asked to show the little cuts on her fingers, Lucia, who turned three July 23, hid her hands behind her back and looked up with earnest brown eyes framed with brown curly hair before jetting off to play.

She is still getting used to having her blood sugar levels checked. Lucia receives checks six to eight times per day. She receives four to eight shots of insulin daily.

"That's just dealing with the highs, the lows are another story," Mrs. Mangan said.

She carries a tube of cake paste -- a mixture of cake crumbs and buttercream frosting -- with her in case of severe lows. There have been times when Lucia's blood sugar levels have dropped to 40.

"A kid that young is not going to say they are getting dizzy," Mrs. Mangan said.

The family hopes a diabetic alert dog will help.

As with all medical alert canines, diabetic alert dogs are trained to smell the chemical body changes that occur as insulin levels increase or drop. When experiencing a high or low, the body releases chemicals that change its scent. The dog indicates this change by barking.

Family and friends have rallied to help the family begin raising the $13,000 needed to purchase the animal from nonprofit 4 Paws for Ability in Xenia, Ohio. The group focuses on providing service dogs for children, something not done by most service dog agencies. They place about 100 animals per year.

In addition to diabetic alert, 4 Paws trains hearing ear, autism, mobility, seizure, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and multipurpose assistance dogs.

To train and raise a dog to become a diabetic alert dog costs about $21,000 of which $13,000 is expected to be raised by the recipient, Mrs. Mangan said. In just a few months, 4 Paws for Lucia has already earned $2,700 toward her dog.

The charity hockey game will help raise additional funds. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for children and will go straight to Lucia's account with 4 Paws for Ability.

The Pittsburgh Celebrity team, made up of news anchors, former Pittsburgh Penguins and other local celebrities, will face off against the Lu Lu Lancers made up of coaches from various youth hockey teams in the area.

Lu Lu's brother, Braiden, 8, has played hockey since he was four and currently is a member of the Mt. Lebanon Hornets.

Braiden and sisters Gianna, 4, and Sofia, 8 months, are being tested to see if they have the gene that could cause type 1. If any of Lucia's siblings test positive for the gene, they could be enrolled in a study where children take daily insulin pills to try to prolong the onset of the disease.

Meanwhile, Lucia has just tested positive for Celiac disease, or gluten intolerance. This makes controlling sugar levels even harder, as many gluten-free products are higher in carbohydrates than non-gluten-free counterparts, Mrs. Mangan said. Foods that contain carbohydrates raise blood glucose levels.

She said type 1s usually have autoimmune disorders such as Celiac and Thyroid diseases. Lucia will have her thyroid tested, as problems run in her family.

"I feel like it doesn't end. We're taking so much away from her," she said. " I feel bad. I can't even take her to Kennywood and get her an ice cream."

Right now, Lucia's insulin and other diabetic supplies are covered by the state of Pennsylvania. Next March, Lucia will be eligible to receive an insulin pump.

But her mother is already worrying about how to pay for it after Lucia graduates from college. "Instead of a college fund, we'll have to be thinking about setting up an insulin fund for her," Mrs. Mangan said.

Funds for Lucia's dog also will be raised during a Sept. 15 bean bag tournament sponsored by Animal Friends at the Double Wide Grill, Route 228, Mars. The tournament begins at 4 p.m. and the cost is $20 per team. Proceeds will be split between Animal Friends and 4 Paws for Lucia.

Information: paws4lucia.blogspot.ca


Sonja Reis, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com First Published August 23, 2012 9:30 AM


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