A Mundelein-area Catholic school's new four-legged "student" with lifesaving skills was introduced at an assembly Friday.
It was the first day on the job for diabetes-alert dog Chevy and his client, St. Mary of the Annunciation first-grader Aidan Gorman of Round Lake Beach. Aidan received the black Labrador through the assistance of the nonprofit Ron and Vicki Santo Diabetes-Alert Dog Foundation.
About 175 students in the kindergarten-through-fifth-grade school in Fremont Township began Friday at the gathering that featured Aidan's mother and father, Rachel and Jason Gorman, and Colorado-based dog trainer Julie Noyes. The Gormans answered questions about their son's Type I diabetes and how the dog will help him, while Noyes handled the training aspects.
Chevy's job will be to detect dangerous blood-sugar levels in Aidan that require an insulin injection.
Because Chevy will be around 8-year-old Aidan so much, Rachel Gorman said, the children should think of him as another student as they go about their school day.
"You guys just have to let (Chevy) work and do his job," she said.
Noyes, who works with the Santo foundation, cautioned the students to not pet the working animal.
She said Chevy is about a year old, and he went with her to grocery stores, a movie theater, a theme park and a host of other public places as part of his training.
Similar to how dogs are trained to detect bombs, the dog assigned to Aidan learned how to sniff chemical changes that occur in the body of someone with diabetes.
"What we did is, with Aidan, he gave us samples of his blood and his spit," Noyes said. "And I used that to train (Chevy). This smell is what I want (the dog) to tell me about."
As Chevy became a tad agitated and whiny during her presentation, Noyes said it's how he communicates Aidan's blood sugar changes.
But the dog is capable of picking up more than Aidan's blood sugar scents, so a bunch of hungry kids near the boy could push Chevy into overdrive, Noyes said.
Chevy won't be with Aidan during lunchtime or recess at school for that reason, she said.
"If you guys aren't eating breakfast and Chevy's whining and it's definitely not Aidan, it could be one of you guys," Noyes told the young pupils. "A low blood sugar is a low blood sugar. It's a good reason to make sure you're eating before you come to school. It's good for your brain and it doesn't drive Chevy crazy."
Rachel Gorman said her family applied to the Santo foundation for the diabetes-alert dog last year.
Under the foundation's grant eligibility requirements, applicants must have insulin-dependent, Type I diabetes for at least one year, have a doctor's prescription for a diabetic-alert dog, and be denied insurance coverage for the animal.
"This (dog) will enable Aidan to have a better life," she said. "It will enable him to be able to live a normal childhood, participate in sports without stopping on the sideline and testing his sugar two and three times."
Cubs Hall of Famer Ron Santo was a Type I diabetic who died in 2010.
Santo's widow has said he would have been pleased with the charity that was launched about two years after his death.