By Caitlin Seida from In The Cloud Copy
Medical alert dogs can give their companions a newfound sense of independence and freedom. Enter Bill, a golden retriever owned by Laura Moody, an Australian woman living with Addison’s disease. For Laura and others with the disease, being alone can be dangerous. If hormone and/or medication levels are insufficient enough to deal with a person’s stressors, there’s a chance of not being able to properly self-administer medication during a potentially life-threatening event called an adrenal crisis. Bill and other service dogs like him are trained to alert their owners before levels drop too low.
Laura was first diagnosed with Addison’s disease in 2017, after a series of vague, unexplained symptoms left her feeling drained, rapidly losing weight, and taking on a different skin pigmentation pattern than she normally had. Upon her first visit to a hospital, Laura recalls feeling completely delirious but was nonetheless discharged. Two weeks later, she was lucky enough to find a doctor who could connect the dots – and was told that had he not, she likely would not have survived even one more night. Sadly, Laura’s story is not unique: many people with Addison’s disease only find a proper diagnosis after experiencing one or more adrenal crises.
Seeking Independence with Addison’s Disease
Those with Addison’s disease take daily steroids to stay alive. The steroids – usually hydrocortisone – replace a lack of or insufficient level of cortisol produced by the body’s adrenal glands. Cortisol is the hormone that allows the body to respond to stressors – good or bad, physical or emotional. The excitement you might feel over, say, a friend’s wedding, is chemically and hormonally handled similarly to the death of a loved one. A good workout can be on par with a serious cold. When you have Addison’s disease, your adrenal glands cease normal functioning and cannot handle any of it without steroids.
When cortisol levels drop too low, a person with Addison’s disease enters an adrenal crisis. They’ll become weak, disoriented and unconscious. If steroids are not administered as soon as possible, there’s a very real possibility of a coma or death. This process can happen over time, or it can come on in just minutes. Those living with Addison’s Disease often keep an emergency kit with an injectable form of steroids on hand for just such emergencies.
For Laura and most others with the disease, day-to-day life can be normal, if not a little more complicated. Because steroid dosages need to be adjusted to compensate for stress or physical exertion, it can leave a person feeling foggy-headed if their cortisol levels are too low. Additionally, long-term use of steroids can compromise the body’s immune system, leaving people with Addison’s Disease more likely to fall ill – increasing still more the odds of an adrenal crisis.
Bill’s Assistance Matters
Laura first got the idea to gain more independence by using a service dog after seeing the success of others overseas using them for Addison’s disease. She heard the story of one woman whose daughter died of an adrenal crisis whilst alone, and that cemented her resolve because she knew that her life and that of others could be saved simply by having a working companion animal.
Laura set to work finding an organization to help train an Addison’s disease service dog. After speaking with several organizations who weren’t equipped to help because Addison’s is so rare, she stumbled upon Miracle Assistance Dogs out of Green Hills, New South Wales, Australia. They figured out that the training for a dog to sense low cortisol levels is similar to the training a dog would undergo to sniff out low insulin levels in people with diabetes.
Bill is currently undergoing rigorous training, and if he’s successful, he will be the first service dog for Addison’s disease in Australia. As for Laura, not only is she determined to make it happen, but she’s excited to have her “assistant” make life easier. Laura is also hopeful for what Bill’s training could mean for others. “I really hope he is successful,” she says, adding that being the test case for this could mean the difference between life and death for many living with Addison’s.
Check out the source story here.