The Loma Portal Elementary kindergartener was just a few blood-sugar points away from a coma in June 2011 when he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (T1D). Since then, overcoming the challenges of living with the incurable, potentially deadly disease has been a nightmare for the Throms.
A military family with two other children, Leandra, 11, who attends Dana Middle School, and Stephen, 14, a student at Point Loma High School; the Throms are a testament to how the 24-7 vigil of diabetes changes lives.
To ensure Landon’s safety and give him the chance to lead an independent life, the Throms have decided to get a diabetic alert dog. They are putting on a picnic fundraiser — “Paws for Landon” — from 1 to
4 p.m. on Saturday, June 16 at the Village of NTC Clubhouse, 1895 Tattnal Way. Lunch is $6 per person, and there will be a bounce house, which the family is renting at half price, and a face painter, who is donating her time.
“I never heard of diabetes,” said Landon’s mother, Amy. “Then, everything came crashing in at once.”
Landon’s behavior started changing just as father Anthony, a First Class Culinary Specialist in the Navy aboard the USS Howard, was getting ready to deploy. Landon started wetting the bed and acting out; constantly asking to eat and to get a drink of water. Frequent urination, increased appetite and extreme thirst are among the warning signs of T1D. Amy thought it was an emotional response to Anthony’s pending absence.
“He would wake up drenched in sweat and pee and want a drink,” Amy said.
Thinking that water was the cause of Landon’s bed wetting, she denied his requests. The problem persisted, so Amy took him to the pediatrician.
Landon was immediately whisked by ambulance to Naval Medical Center San Diego, where he was diagnosed with T1D. He stayed in the hospital for a week until he was stabilized, and Amy learned how to give him insulin shots.
There is no prevention or cure for T1D, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. T1D is an autoimmune disease where the pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables the body to get energy from food. There are two types of diabetes: Type 1, which is typically onset in childhood, and Type 2, which often results from excess body weight and physical inactivity in adults. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization reported that 1 in 10 people worldwide has diabetes.
Landon is among the more than 3 million Americans who have T1D. A tow-headed boy with crystal-blue eyes and a bright smile, he is the picture of health. Except for the medical ID dog tags that he wears around his neck, one wouldn’t know that he is walking around with a potentially life-threatening illness.
“I have to wear it every time I go to the pool,” he said, pulling his medical alert tag out from under his shirt. Then he pricks his finger, puts a drop of blood on a strip and inserts it into a cell phone-size glucose meter to check his blood sugar level. Amy leans over to check the reading. Landon looks up at her for approval. “It’s normal,” she said with a smile and sigh of relief.
“It doesn’t hurt at all,” he said proudly in a little boy lisp. “The shots sting, but I don’t cry.”
Landon’s blood-sugar level is checked around the clock and he receives six to eight insulin shots a day. In school, he leaves class three times a day to have his glucose levels checked, a snack and an insulin shot from the school nurse. Amy, who is hyper-organized to meet the family’s needs and to take care of Landon, keeps a daily record of Landon’s glucose levels. She faxes them to the doctor and files the records in a bright-green binder that is three inches thick from a year of readings.
The regimen is grueling and uncertain, which is why the Throm family has decided to get a diabetic alert dog. The service dog will alert to any blood-sugar extremes. That means there will be no guessing about what’s going on inside Landon’s body — especially when he’s asleep.
The cost of a trained alert dog is $20,000. To date, the family has raised $7,000. The money has been cobbled together through lollipop sales at school; a fundraiser held at Hooter’s by Anthony’s shipmates, and a $3,000 donation from Aaron’s, a rent-to-own furniture company. The Throms hope to raise the remaining $13,000 before Anthony’s next deployment.
Amy learned about diabetic alert dogs last year when she met Michelle Hyman at the Walk to Cure Diabetes.
Hyman, 40, was diagnosed with diabetes when she was 11 years old. As she’s aged, her ability to detect her blood sugar lows has diminished.
“It’s especially hard for me to wake up at night,” she said.
When Hyman’s blood sugar is low at night, her dog jumps on the bed and licks her face. When it’s low during the day, the dog alerts her by putting his nose on her leg. When her blood sugar is high, the dog paws her.
“I don’t look at having a dog as money. I look at it as my life,” Hyman said. “You can’t put a price on my safety.”
Like Hyman, the Throm family will get their dog from Guardian Angel Service Dogs, a nonprofit 501(c)(3). Guardian Angel dogs are bred and trained for temperament and smell by Warren Retrievers, founded by Dan Warren, who is also a diabetic.
The Throms had to apply and be accepted for eligibility to receive a dog, which is expected to arrive this summer. A puppy is being picked for them based on Landon’s needs and their lifestyle. But first, the puppy with be trained to recognize and alert to the scent of low and high blood-sugar levels. The dog will be able to detect glucose levels below 80 or above 180, reducing the need for constant blood monitoring and eliminating the deadly guessing game.
When the puppy arrives — which Landon has already decided to name Rocky — it will be accompanied by a trainer, who will live with the Throms for several days. This new breed of service dog can be trained to get juice boxes, insulin, blood glucose kits and even dial 911 in an emergency.
Rocky will bring peace of mind to the Throm household, but there are some things in their lives that won’t change, like Anthony’s demanding military career. He’s up and off to work at 4 a.m. to ensure the crew of the USS Howard starts its day with a healthy breakfast.
“When I get home at 6 at night, there’s time for dinner, the kids and bed,” he said. “Amy is our rock. Every morning the first thing I do is make sure Landon’s still breathing,” Anthony said. “It’s true what they say — until there’s a cure for diabetes, there’s a dog.”
For more information about the
June 16 picnic fundraiser for Landon, or to buy a ticket in advance, call (619) 222-5973, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To make a tax-deductible donation for a diabetic alert dog for Landon, make checks payable to Guardian Angel Service Dogs and mail them to P.O. Box 910 Orange, Va., 22960. Indicate the donation is for Landon Throm. Donations can also be made online at Guardianangelservicedogs.org.