By CHRIS HARRIS, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
It’s said that the dog is man’s best friend.
But what about a little girl like Haylee Whitis? For her, a dog might be more than just a friend — it might just help save her life.
Eight-year-old Haylee has Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes. Commonly found in children and younger adults, the condition renders the body unable to produce insulin, a hormone the body needs to convert food into energy, moving glucose into one’s cells. Lack of insulin causes glucose to stay in the blood, which can cause damage to the body and organs. Type 1 diabetes causes one’s immune system to attack the insulin-producing beta cells.
A lot of complicated terms to describe one very simple result: a mother’s fear.
Dana Whitis, Haylee’s mother, told the Commonwealth Journal that Haylee has twice experience seizures in the middle of the night due to low blood sugar. It wasn’t something her family was expecting — but it became all too real, all too quickly.
“It was a shock to us,” said Dana. “The first time it happened, we didn’t know what was going on. We had to rush her to the emergency room.
“Her eyes were going back in her head as I held her on the way there,” added Dana. “I really thought we were losing her.”
It’s not something a mother forgets. Dana admits she doesn’t sleep much at night anymore, keeping vigilant attention on her daughter’s condition.
“I set the alarm every night at 2 a.m. to check Haylee’s blood sugar,” said Dana. “Since she had the seizures I’ve been up and down in the middle of the night. She takes five insulin shots a day.”
Haylee was first diagnosed with juvenile diabetes when she was 4, in April of 2009.
“He had taken our other daughter (Carlee) to the doctor in Lexington, and Haylee wasn’t feeling very well; we noticed she was getting tired,” said Dana. “We took her to the children’s clinic (the next day), and they told us to get her to (the University of Kentucky Medical Center) as fast as we could.”
Time was indeed of the essence. Haylee went into a diabetic coma, a condition in which she spent two days.
Since then, Haylee has stayed “very strong,” as her mother put it, and has gone on living her life the best she can. She stays active playing basketball at Rocky Hollow Park in Somerset.
“She doesn’t get scared; she doesn’t let her condition slow her down,” said Dana. “The other day she was playing basketball. Her sugar level was at 500 (which is very high), but she kept going.”
Still, Haylee’s condition is a lifelong one, and will require constant attention, diligence in insulin shots, and precautions throughout the youth that others her age enjoy carefree.
“Haylee can’t stay all night with a friend or be away from me for a long period of time unless she is at school where the nurse takes care of her also,” noted Dana.
One thing that will help is a diabetic service dog. The Whitis family — Dana and Haylee, as well as dad Donnie, brother Jeremiah and sister Carlee — are hoping to obtain one of these crucial animals from Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers in Virginia.
“(The) diabetic alert dogs are trained to recognize and alert on the scene of low and/or high blood sugars for someone with Type 1 diabetes,” said Dana. “While most might think that the blood glucose meter is all Haylee needs, we need this additional tool to help manage blood sugar fluctuations, so that in the future we can try to prevent some of the devastating effects Type 1 diabetes has had one her body.”
The problem is, diabetic alert dogs don’t come cheaply. Dana is expecting it to cost about $25,000, and the process will take time. Dana said the family has “already begun our journey” by placing the initial deposit with Warren Retrievers, and are likely to get the dog in around seven to nine months’ time, but just as budgets are tight for families all over America, the Whitis household is no different and any help the community can offer in getting the dog for Haylee would be a godsend.
The Whitis family has started the “Benefit for Haylee Whitis” Facebook page, which provides updates and information on fundraising efforts. “Benefit for Haylee Whitis” has been organized as a 501 (c)(3) non-profit charity, and contributions are tax deductible.
The family will be sending out letters soon to area businesses and organizations with information on how they can help donate to the cause.
A platinum-level sponsorship is $500; gold is $250; silver $100; and bronze $50. Those who donate will be recognized at an upcoming event, likely a reception the family plans to hold later this year when they receive the dog.
“I hope (those who receive the letters) will consider being a sponsor at one of the levels listed,” said Dana. “However, any form of support would be greatly appreciated.”
Checks may be made payable to Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers; to make an immediate donation, please visit their website at www.sdwr.org and use the donation icon, indicating in the message section that the donation is for the Whitis family.
There will also be fundraising events coming up soon to help the cause. A benefit motorcycle ride, auction and lunch will be held on April 20. Ride registration is at 9:30 a.m. at First Baptist Church in Somerset, 128 N. Main Street, and cost is $20 for a single or $25 for a double. The auction begins at 3 p.m. and there will be music and entertainment. For more information, call Dana Whitis at 606-875-1577.
Also, the Somerset Police Department is holding a basketball fundraiser on March 22 at Somerset High School. It will pit the police against the Somerset Fire Department to raise money for Haylee’s dog. Again, call Dana Whitis for more information.
“Until there is a cure ...” is the motto the Whitis family is using in promoting the fundraising efforts for the service dog. It’s in that spirit of hope that the family believes the community will step up to the challenge of making a difficult life better for one very special little girl.
“Eventually, when this dog is trained, it will go to school with (Haylee) and take care of her 24 hours a day,” said Dana Whitis. “It will give us security and peace of mind.”