It was a meeting that was three years in the making.
Last Thursday, the Sue and Joe Davies family of Mount Pleasant, son Cameron's doctor and their baby sitter waited in anticipation at Charleston International Airport for Lady, a mini Labradoodle trained as a diabetes-alert dog, and her trainer, Mary Westbrook.
Cameron and older brother Mitchell squatted as they looked for them, saw them and squirmed in excitement as they saw them approach.
Lady approached 8-year-old Cameron and took about a minute to sniff his hands, arms, head and hair -- and seemed to recognize him immediately.
Cameron patiently let her meet him, then broke into a grin and started hugging and petting Lady as if he already knew and loved her.
It was a moment of silence, smiles and tears.
Cameron, a second-grader at Jennie Moore Elementary School, has both Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes before Type 2 became prevalent among juveniles, and seizure disorder, formerly known as epilepsy.
The two combined make him more prone to seizures when his blood sugar drops below 70 milligrams per deciliter, according to Dr. Deborah Bowlby, director of the pediatric endocrinology division at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Bowlby adds that unlike adults, children are less adept at detecting hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, and consuming glucose to raise it.
"Where it's most worrisome is overnight when they are asleep," says Bowlby.
Because Cameron has had eight night-time seizures since being diagnosed with diabetes in 2005, he and his mother haven't slept very well in recent years.
She spends the night in Cameron's bedroom and tests his blood sugar levels up to six times a night in an attempt to prevent him from having a life-threatening seizure.
"I work very hard at maintaining his diabetes," says Sue.
The Davieses have tried using a "continuous glucose monitoring system" (tests at five-second intervals), but those pick up only blood sugar level trends, can be unreliable and are uncomfortable for children, particularly active ones with little body fat such as Cameron, who already is hooked up to an insulin pump.
Three years ago, Sue read about dogs that are trained to detect, via scent, a moment when a person's body reaches a low blood-sugar threshold and began researching the possibility of getting Cameron one.
She said reputable ones were booked to the point of not accepting applications and that some other trainers churned out dogs that didn't actually detect problems.
In fact, two trainers were ordered to pay fines, one for $192,000, in recent months for providing dogs that didn't perform their duties as expected.
Then Davies happened upon Westbrook, co-owner of Adobe Kennels in Amarillo, Texas, who has long trained German shepherds to be service dogs, first as narcotic dogs and now as diabetes-alert dogs.
Davies liked that Westbrook trained only one dog at a time, but she wasn't interested in a German shepherd.
The Davies family has a mini goldendoodle named Scooby from End of Summer Kennels, a breeder in Oklahoma, and asked Westbrook to consider training another retriever-poodle mix.
"I just thought there was nothing like a shepherd (to train for service)," says Westbrook, who agreed to train a mini Labradoodle and has since become impressed with the breed.
Westbrook got Lady late last fall and started first training her for obedience, which sets the stage for being a proficient alert dog.
"It's a slow process," says Westbrook. "First, the dog needs to be at least 18-30 months old to undergo training. They can do it earlier, but because they are on duty 24/7, they'll get burned out if they start too young."
Because of the intensive training, the cost of a diabetes-alert dog runs in the thousands of dollars. The Davies family had to raise $10,000 for Lady and got half of that from Carolina Children's Charity.
And the training didn't stop with the arrival of Lady last Thursday. Westbrook will be here until this Thursday to complete a training transition to the family.
Despite Westbrook's experience in training service dogs, she admits that handing dogs over to their new owners remains difficult for her and her husband.
"We have been weeping," Westbrook said in an interview the day before her arrival. "It always happens."
Meanwhile, the Davieses already want to help other families in need of diabetes-alert dogs.
They have created a new foundation, Sugar Paws, to raise awareness of Type 1 diabetes and money for trained dogs.
How to help
As part of the journey in getting a diabetes-alert dog for 8-year-old son Cameron, the Davies family recently created a foundation, Sugar Paws, to help other local families with children who have Type 1 diabetes get alert dogs.Among the first events is the inaugural Sugar Paws Invitational Golf Tournament, to be held at 1 p.m. Thursday at Dunes West Golf and River Club in Mount Pleasant. The cost is $75. Contact Joe Davies at 401-932-8181 or email@example.com.A website for Sugar Paws is in the works. In the meantime, those who want to join in the effort can contact Sue Davies at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Westbrook of Amarillo, Tex., trains diabetes alert dogs -- one at time.×
Diabetes-alert dog Lady is welcomed by the Davies family and Dr. Deborah Bowlby (left, petting Lady), head of MUSCís pediatric endocrinology division and Cameron Daviesí (center) physician. Sue Davies, standing left next to Texas-based trainer Mary We×