Meet Echo – a golden retriever who has been hailed a lifesaver – twice.
endy Smith, from east Belfast, who lives with diabetes, contracted Covid-19 last October and is still suffering its effects, with a loss of taste and smell.
She said: “Having type 1 diabetes I was very worried about contracting Covid-19 as I knew having diabetes made me more vulnerable to getting sicker than someone else without an underlying health condition. My lips at one stage turned blue and I ended up at the Ulster Hospital, where I was given oxygen. It was a worrying time.”
Wendy uses an insulin pump to help manage her diabetes and it was during her recovery she started to notice a nasty infection taking hold where her pump was connected to her body.
“In November I started to get an infection on my insulin pump site. It started getting very red and hot. After four days on antibiotics the site I had moved my insulin pump to had started to swell up too.
“My whole upper arm went red. I ended up in A&E, 10 days on IV antibiotics and then three further weeks on oral antibiotics.
“I think because Covid had hammered my immune system it took me a lot longer to get over an infection like that. I don’t think in normal times it would have taken hold so much.”
The mother-of-two’s recovery from the virus along with the impact of lockdown took a toll on her mentally too.
“I got great support from family but it wasn’t until I got talking to other people with diabetes and someone else who had had Covid as well that I realised I was mentally exhausted,” she said.
The Coleraine native says it was the unconditional love of her “working dog” Echo (5) and an online peer support group run by charity Diabetes UK NI that helped her through the dark days.
Echo is Wendy’s “four-legged everyday lifesaver” as the civil servant has been unable to detect when her blood glucose (sugar) level goes dangerously high or low since a surgical operation some time ago.
Most people living with type 1 diabetes are aware when they are having a hypo so they can take action to bring their blood glucose (sugar) level back to a healthy range.
“I started to lose my hypo awareness after the operation, but it was after taking a hypo while driving my car around five years ago that I knew I needed a working dog from Hypo Hounds charity to help me manage my diabetes.
“I was having up to 15 hypos a week, including some during the night. I have no doubt Echo has saved my life countless times.
“She’s trained to alert me when my blood sugars go too low or high. She is trained to put her paw on my knee and bark to alert me, or if I’m in bed and Colin (Wendy’s husband) is downstairs she’ll annoy him so he knows to check on me.”
She added: “Echo takes the pressure off the rest of the family as they trust her to look after me and she is always great company. But I appreciated her even more when I was recovering from Covid.”
Wendy added: “I get comments about how my diabetes will go away if I just go on a diet which of course is not the case. So many people don’t have the understanding, so it’s great to get together with people who can empathise with your situation and are going through the same issues.”
And Echo’s remarkable lifesaving abilities don’t end with Wendy. She saved fellow canine Max recently when she donated blood to the critically ill terrier that was suspected of having been accidentally poisoned.
“Echo gave Max a blood donation and she’s recovering well. Echo really is an extraordinary dog, I’m lucky to have her.”
To register for the type 1 or type 2 peer support groups email [email protected]