DESTREHAN, La. - About one in every 400 children has diabetes. It's a dangerous disease that can be difficult to manage.
But, one Destrehan child is hoping to inspire others with a new source of hope he's found - a dog.
Jeremiah Gerlach, 8, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age three. After a week in the hospital, he spent the next four years taking four shots of insulin every day.
"The first time I got a shot, I just screamed but now I've gotten used to it," Jeremiah said.
Now he wears an insulin pump that only requires him to get a shot once every 3 days. But the pump hasn't cut down on worry for his mother, Jacque Gerlach. She checks Jeremiah's blood sugar every night at midnight and again at 3 a.m.
"If he goes especially really low during the night, he could slip into a coma, and so I do check him every night religiously, just to make sure that if something were to happen, I catch it. And there are plenty of times I do," Jacque said.
But, she believes a labrador retriever will ease their worry. Not just any lab - a diabetic alert dog.
"The dog will sleep with Jeremiah in his room. If Jeremiah goes low or high in the middle of the night, even if the dog is asleep, his nose will always be on alert. He'll do everything he can to wake Jeremiah up and then he'll be trained to come into our room and wake me up," Jacque said.
Jacque learned about the dogs on Facebook, where she found an online community of diabetic parents.
"Quite a few of them either have a dog or are fundraising for a dog and I keep hearing a story of, 'This is what my dog did today' or, 'Let me tell you how the dog saved my child's life last night,'" Jacque said.
She heard praise about Virginia-based Warren Retrievers. Owner Dan Warren said the dogs are 98 percent accurate, detecting blood sugar fluctuation 20 to 45 minutes before it registers on a meter.
That means the dog can help keep a tighter range. Jeremiah can only feel extreme changes, and reaching those extremes repeatedly present potential long-term problems.
"Most of the time when I know, it just goes way down and I'm like, 'Oh no! It's 38 and I didn't even know it!'" Jeremiah said.
By detecting levels that are just a little high or low, the dog can help improve average blood sugar scores or A1C.
"We're partnering with the University of Virginia to do a 4-year research data. And through our data that we've been able to gather so far, we're finding that typical A1Cs are decreased .75 of a point to a full point within 90 days of placement with one of our diabetic alert dogs," Warren said.
Warren hopes the study will prompt insurance companies to cover the cost of these dogs - about $20,000. The Gerlachs are fundraising and Warren said they'll be the first family in Louisiana to get one.
"It's really exciting to know we can hopefully set the tone for other families. I know there's a bunch of families of children with type 1 diabetics that hadn't really even thought that this was an option for them," Jacque said.
"It will help me manage my diabetes and it will be a lifesaver and it will make it where my mom doesn't have to check my sugar as often, but even if she does it will really really help the inside of my body," Jeremiah said.
Warren said the company places up to 400 diabetic alert dogs in families annually.
The Gerlachs are having a benefit fundraiser at the Ormond Plantation House on June 2 for $10 a ticket. To find out how you can help or to find out more about Warren Retrievers, go to http://wholefamilystrong.com/category/a-d-a-d-for-jeremiah/ and http://www.warrenretrievers.com/.