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The gift of freedom, Chrystal & Lesli

What would it be like to feel like a child even though you were in your 20s? Diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic at the age of 3, Chrystal O’Malley was nervous about being on her own, afraid of low blood sugar and never waking up. “I was working full time and going to school, and had trouble controlling my blood sugar,” she said. “Then I met a woman who had a diabetes alert dog and was involved with Early Alert Canines. She told me how her dog had changed her life.” EAC was just starting out at the time, and Chrystal was in the very first group of diabetics they worked with. They paired her with a Golden Retriever named Leslie.

“It was one of these things where I just knew my life was about to change,” she said. “And it did. I ended up getting a studio [apartment] and lived with Leslie by myself.” “You would have to sit there and check your blood sugar every 60 seconds to do what Leslie does. Leslie is about 5 minutes faster than the continuous blood sugar monitor.”

Leslie’s gift of freedom also kicks in on the road. “Leslie has alerted me when I’ve been driving,” Chrystal said. “She’s really good about alerting in the car. I pull over and take care of it.” Not only did Leslie let Chrystal live on her own for the first time and improve her health, but she brought many other benefits to her life. “I finally felt normal,” she said. “I've always had to rely and depend on someone else. I felt like a burden. For the first time I felt like I had freedom, felt like an adult living a normal adult life. Having Leslie alleviated pressure off me.”

Stress is a risk factor both for blood sugar problems and for the same health problems that are linked to diabetes. “Any low, any spike, is threatening to my life, but the most important ones are the ones at work,” Chrystal said. “I’m very high energy and don't relax a lot. I don't really realize my lows until I stand up, and Leslie alerts me before that happens.”

"Stress and depression make your blood sugars go higher, so having her is like therapy. Diabetes is tiring and frustrating; you never get to take time off from it. Emotionally she's the thing that's changed my life. It's hard to describe in words how much they mean to us as clients of EAC. It's an incredible experience. I'm so thankful and relieved we have this support.”

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