Elle Shaheen was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was just 8. The disease left her and her mother in constant fear that her blood sugar could reach dangerous levels. But five years later, they adopted an adorable service dog named Coach who, after nearly 2,000 hours of training, learned how to save Elle’s life.
Elle, now 16, told HuffPost Live’s Nancy Redd that it’s “hard to imagine” her life before Coach, when fluctuating insulin levels left her vulnerable to either a coma or seizures. Coach can detect smells emitted from her body when her levels rise or drop and then alert her. He gets her attention by circling her body, licking her hand or jumping onto her lap.
“My mom and I were both skeptical to this whole process and before this, I wasn’t the biggest fan of dogs, so I was very nervous about our relationship because it doesn’t really matter if the service dog can work — it’s all about the relationship between the owner and the dog, and that’s how the dog will be able to alert the owner,” Elle said. “But just immediately right when I met him, I felt that instantaneous trust and love. And he’s so adorable and so gentle. It’s been incredible to see him work.”
Mom Stefany Shaheen explained that before they adopted Coach from Cares, Inc., her daughter was especially at risk in the middle of the night when she couldn’t feel her low blood sugar.
“[Coach is] helping her catch her high blood sugar and low blood sugar before she’s feeling the symptoms, and he just gives us amazing peace of mind,” Shaheen said. “I spent countless nights lying awake testing her blood sugar, and knowing that Elle has Coach by her side has really made a huge difference.”
Coach’s skills aren’t limited to alerting only Elle. Her mother explained that during one incident, Elle was vacuuming her room with the door closed when the remarkable pup sensed low blood sugar levels.
“I was up taking a shower and he couldn’t get in to alert her,” Shaheen said. “So he came up two flights of stairs to find me and pressed his nose against the shower door until I got out and came down … Her blood sugar had dropped and was low.”
There’s a misconception that service dogs like Coach cost tens of thousands of dollars, Shaheen explained. With the help of organizations like Cares, they adopted Coach for around $2,500.
The family says the financial investment has given Elle a new sense of independence and excitement about her future. The thought of going off to college was once both “unthinkable” and one of her “biggest fears,” but with Coach, it’s “more doable,” she said.
“He really taught us that you can find hope in unlikely places,” Stefany Shaheen said. “And that if you keep working at it and you stay strong and persist, things can get better.”
Check out the full HuffPost Live video above and check out Stefany Shaheen’s new book, Elle & Coach: Diabetes, the Fight for My Daughter’s Life, and the Dog Who Changed Everything, for more.
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