Medical Detection Dogs receives diabetes award for improving patients’ lives

A Milton Keynes charity that trains dogs to help people with long-term, life-threatening conditions has been awarded the 2015 Quality in Care in Diabetes, People’s Award.

Medical Detection Dogs was co-founded in 2008 by Dr. Claire Guest and Dr. John Church. The idea for the charity came after Guest, an animal behavioural psychologist, published research showing that dogs could be trained to recognise and react to cancer.

Some dogs can smell cancer in the breath and urine of humans, so Guest extended her research into blood glucose levels. Medical alert assistance dogs are not only trained to detect low blood sugar on the breath of humans, but also fetch testing kits in response.

The medical conditions that the dogs are trained to assist with include brittle diabetes, narcolepsy, Addison’s disease and severe nut allergies.

To date, 62 people have been provided with medical alert assistance dogs, who can alert their owners to imminent medical crises.

Medical Detection Dogs was nominated for the award by its beneficiaries. The Quality in Care Programmes recognise achievements in specific therapy areas and good practice in patient care, while the People’s Award, supported by Diabetes UK, recognises someone who has improved the lives of people with diabetes and their families.

One of these beneficiaries was Claire Moon, who suffers from brittle diabetes. Brittle diabetes is a rare sub-type of type 1 diabetes in which people experience extreme swings in blood glucose levels, and Claire does not get any of the usual symptoms of low blood sugar, such as headaches or fatigue.

Before she was partnered with her medical alert assistance dog, Claire tested her blood sugar around 20 times a day to catch any severe drops in her blood sugar. Sometimes, she would stay awake overnight or wake up every hour to test.

Thanks to Magic, an energetic golden Labrador, Claire can worry less about drops in her blood sugar. Magic is always by her side, and detects when Claire’s blood sugar drops below 4.5 mmol/l by smelling her breath. He then nudges or licks her and brings her diabetes testing kit.

Ms. Moon said: “The charity has changed my life completely. Magic has given me my independence back. I work in a hospital and Magic is always there with me and I don’t know who does the patients more good, him or me!”

The waiting list for a medical alert assistance dog is currently four years, and the charity does not receive any government funding. The incredible work Medical Detection Dogs have been able to achieve has relied solely on donations from the public.

Dr. Guest said: “We want to help many more people struggling to manage very difficult conditions. We always take great care to match people and dogs who have great chemistry together as the strong bond they form will ultimately save lives.

“We are so grateful to Quality in Care and Diabetes UK for this award. One of the most rewarding aspects of our day-to-day work is to see our partners rediscovering their confidence and independence as they build a relationship with their medical alert assistance dog.”

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Picture: miltonkeynes.co.uk

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Jack Woodfield

Jack is Deputy Editor of Diabetes.co.uk and the award-winning Low Carb Program. He works hard, plays fair and sleeps whenever possible. He also has type 1 diabetes, doesn't mind being called a "diabetic", and once won a talent show for dancing to Dario G’s 1997 hit “Sunchyme”.

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