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An asset to her health: Diabetic service dog helps Alexandria teen

During an interview at the Echo Press, Miranda Danielson's service dog alerted her to a spike in her blood sugar. Kenai, a purebred Siberian husky, received a treat for a job well done. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 1 / 4
Kenai, a purebred Siberian husky who is just a year old, has been trained as a diabetes service dog for Miranda Danielson of Alexandria. (Contributed) 2 / 4
After Kenai alerted her to check her blood sugar, Miranda Danielson gives herself a shot of insulin. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 3 / 4
While out shopping, Miranda Danielson of Alexandria stops to take a picture with her service dog, Kenai. (Contributed) 4 / 4

Miranda Danielson wanted to go out for track and field when she was 16, which meant she needed a physical.

She seemed to be in good physical condition, and although she had been losing weight, that wasn't concerning since it was something she had been working on.

"My physical went great," said Danielson, who lives in Carlos. "I felt great. I felt normal."

As she was heading home from her appointment, however, she received a call from her doctor who told her, "Don't freak out."

Danielson let out a little chuckle at the memory, adding that good news doesn't follow a statement like that. She was directed to go to Children's Hospital in the Twin Cities, and that she had to go immediately.

"I was told if I couldn't get a ride, they had a helicopter waiting for me," said Danielson.

She didn't need the helicopter, instead driving down with her mom, sister and grandma.

Diagnosis confirmed

After arriving at the hospital that night, the diagnosis was confirmed — she had Type 1 diabetes. That was on Jan. 26, 2017.

"My blood sugar level (number) was off the scale," said Danielson. "The top of the scale is 600 and mine wasn't reading any number, it just read 'high.' Normal range is around 90 and usually symptoms start when the number is around 200."

For Danielson, there were no symptoms. She didn't feel sick. She didn't urinate a lot. She wasn't lethargic or always tired. She wasn't excessively thirsty. She felt normal, like nothing was wrong.

After a four-day stay in the hospital, Danielson was discharged. And now, nearly two years later, her diabetes is for the most part under control. But it's not without help — from her glucose monitor to insulin and now, her new diabetes service dog, Kenai.

Danielson has what is known as hyperglycemic and hypoglycemic unawareness, which she said means she doesn't feel or know when her blood sugar level goes too high or too low.

"It's really scary and not really common," she said. "When it goes high or low, I feel absolutely nothing."

Due to the need to constantly check her blood sugar levels, Danielson uses the Dexcom continuous glucose monitoring system that tracks her levels 24 hours a day and sends readings, via Bluetooth, to her cell phone. She has a tiny sensor wire inserted just under her skin, held in place by an adhesive patch, that takes readings and then sends the data to her phone.

An asset to her health

The monitor is essential to Danielson's health, but the service dog she has had since Dec. 6 is an added asset. Diabetic service dogs are not a requirement, she said. They are optional and an option she feels strongly about.

Kenai, a 1-year-old purebred Siberian husky, was trained to detect through the scent of Danielson's breath whether her blood sugar levels are within range. If he detects something is awry, Kenai will alert Danielson by pawing at her. If she were to ignore him, he is trained to alert those around her by pawing at them.

He will keep pawing until Danielson signifies to him that she checked her blood sugar and, if need be, took her insulin. She lets him know everything is taken care of by giving the command, "All done." He usually gets a treat as well, to let him know he did a good job.

"He is an amazing dog," she said. "He doesn't miss it when my blood sugar is too low or high and will often alert me before something happens and then I can fix it right away."

Danielson continually trains Kenai by playing scent games, using cotton balls with her scent for him to find. When she knows her numbers are either too high or too low, she sucks on a cotton ball and freezes it. A chemical in her blood changes when her numbers are out of range and Kenai can detect those changes by the smell of her breath.

Prior to getting Kenai, Danielson said her numbers were in range between 30-40 percent of the time.

"Since getting Kenai, my numbers are in range 80 to 90 percent of the time," she said. "They have improved so much since getting him."

Out of pocket expense

Because diabetic service dogs are not required, they are not covered by insurance and their costs are all out-of-pocket, explained Danielson, noting that this type of service animal costs from $15,000-$20,000. The family put down a deposit of around $8,000, and has roughly two years to come up with the rest.

Because of the costs, Danielson started a GoFundMe page and has had a couple of fundraisers, but more funds are needed. The GoFundMe page is still active and Danielson said people can still donate. She has appreciated all the support she has received so far.

Although the dog is optional, Danielson said she doesn't know what she would do without Kenai, as he goes everywhere with her and will be heading to college with her when the time comes.

"He is my constant reminder to be careful," she said.

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. Besides writing articles for the Echo Press, she has a blog, “Newspaper Girl on the Run.” Celeste is on a continuous healthy living journey and loves to teach bootcamp fitness classes and run. She has participated in more than 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

(320) 763-1242