LINO LAKES — Fall can't come soon enough for one Lino Lakes family, who is eagerly waiting to bring home Mac, a one and a half year old Labradoodle currently training to become a medical alert dog for their 4-year-old daughter, Madelyn.
Madelyn is Danielle and Jay Latcham's miracle baby. Before she was born, Danielle had eight miscarriages and had given up all hope that they would ever be able to have a second child. (Their oldest daughter, Makena, is 11.) “We had kind of given up on the idea that we were ever going to have another child, and three months later I found out I was pregnant,” she said.
Danielle had a normal, healthy pregnancy. A week after her due date, Danielle went in to be induced, but her blood pressure was quickly dropping, Madelyn's heart rate was also dropping and Danielle's placenta abrupted. Danielle had to have an emergency c-section, and Madelyn had to stay in the NICU for a week because her glucose levels were off.
One day after arriving home, a nurse dropped by to check on them. Danielle asked the nurse to check Madelyn's glucose levels, which were extremely low, and Madelyn had to go back to the emergency room.
“If that nurse wouldn't have come over here, Madelyn more than likely would have passed away in her sleep, and they would have chalked it up to SIDS,” Danielle explained.
When the family left the hospital, they were told there was something wrong with Madelyn's spleen and red blood cells, which turned out to be a misdiagnosis. Following the recommendation of a hematologist, Danielle and Jay took Madelyn to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital.“It was like watching an episode of 'House' happening right in front of our eyes. We had every specialist known to man,” Danielle recalled.
Madelyn tested positive for Adrenal insufficiency (AI), a disorder that occurs when the adrenal glands don't make enough of certain hormones. After an MRI, it was discovered that Madelyn had a benign tumor on her hypothalamus.
“She has two normal adrenal glands, but they don't know how to work because her pituitary gland doesn't tell them to,” Danielle explained. The pituitary gland is often called the master gland because it controls several other hormone glands in your body. The doctors think the tumor might have blocked the complete formation of her pituitary gland, causing Hypopituitarism.
“If you get sick, break a bone or have a fever, your body naturally produces cortisol, but since hers doesn't, she goes into crisis or crashes,” Danielle said. During a crash, a person can become unconscious, have seizures and potentially die.
That's where a medical alert dog can help. There are no warning signs for a crash, but medical alert dogs are trained to sense when a crash is about to happen.
“Having (Mac) will bring us peace of mind,” Jay said. “We will be able to sleep at night,” Danielle added.
Around two years ago Danielle and Jay started looking into the possibility of getting a service dog for Madelyn after they learned other children with the same condition as Madelyn were utilizing them. They found Beverly Schwartz, a trainer in Texas, who then connected them to a well-known breeder, Amy Novacek (Novacek's Labradoodles). Novacek has AI that was caused by a brain tumor and has two service dogs of her own.
After Mac's training is complete, he will be able to detect when Madelyn's glucose levels are dropping and alert that she is going to go into crisis if she doesn't get medication. Since Madelyn is so young, and won't understand why the dog is alerting, she will also have a device the dog can nudge that will send a text message to Danielle and Jay, a school nurse or anyone else they think needs to know.
Of course, a dog that is bred specifically for scent training does not come cheap. In addition to the $4,000 for the dog, the training costs another $15,000. The family also had to purchase a fence and will incur expenses related to taking a two-week trip to drive out to Texas, meet Mac and bring him home.
In addition to a community garage sale and online donations, the family has also received support from the Lino Lakes American Legion, Lexington Fire Department and the Centerville and Lino Lakes Lions. “We are humbled by the support,” Danielle said.
Madelyn, her parents said, is “super excited” to have Mac by her side. Although she may think all Mac can do is give kisses and play fetch, she will grow up to realize he is capable of so much more than that.
Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.