MOUNT VERNON — Diagnosed with Type I diabetes at the age of 6, Jennifer Turcott, now 29, has been coping with the disease for the past 23 years. Daily insulin injections used to somewhat control her blood glucose levels, but serious complications have arisen in the past five years.
Turcott developed diabetic neuropathy in her legs, with muscle weakness, spasms and cramps.
She also began suffering from diabetic retinopathy, which results from damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissues of the retina. Although Turcott’s retinopathy is not yet severe, the symptoms can range from mild vision problems to eventual blindness if blood sugar levels remain uncontrolled.
If that isn’t enough to deal with, in November 2009, Turcott was diagnosed with gastroparesis which affects the digestive system. She was hospitalized many times due to dehydration, weight loss, vomiting and swelling in her legs. The gastroparesis causes extreme fluctuations in her blood glucose levels, which go from very low levels to very high levels throughout any given day or night.
Turcott had a gastric pacemaker, or neurostimulator, implanted to help suppress the nausea caused by the gastroparesis, but the vomiting continues to plague her. That in turn, makes it more difficult to maintain her blood glucose levels on an even keel.
“The lower my blood sugar runs, the less able I am to detect that it is dropping,” Turcott said. “I can go into a coma. It affects my alertness, it can impair my judgment and thinking.”
That is problematic because she has two young children to care for, Zachary Yoho, 7, and Tatum Turcott, 5.
“It’s a concern, too,” said Turcott’s mother and advocate Michelle Wilcox, “because she lives on her own with her children. Especially at night I worry about her sugar dropping low and her going into a coma.”
Turcott is hoping to be able to obtain a diabetic alert service dog to help her deal with her roller-coastering blood glucose levels.
Diabetic alert service dogs detect low and high blood sugar levels by sensing a change in their charge’s breath, often up to an hour before the person’s blood glucose meter registers the change. The dogs then give an “alert” to the individual, allowing the person to fix the problem before it becomes a major, life-threatening problem.