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Young Girl’s Service Dog Senses Onset of Potentially Fatal Allergy Reactions

For the first time ever, physicians at Duke University Medical Center have allowed the service dog of a young female patient into the sterile operating room. According to an article by CBS News, the young girl, seven-year-old Kaelyn “KK” Krawczyk, suffers from a rare disease called mastocytosis or mast cell activation disorder. This causes her to have an abnormally high number of mast cells, which contain many inflammatory compounds that respond to allergens. For patients with mastocytosis, certain allergy triggers cause the body to release large amounts of these inflammatory compounds from the mast cells, resulting in facial flushing, significant drops in blood pressure, serious allergy symptoms, or life-threatening anaphylaxis. If untreated, death can occur. In the CBS News article, Dr. Brad Taicher, a Duke anesthesiologist who has worked with Kaelyn, said that “for KK, any countless number of things can trigger her mast cells to degranulate and release these mediators.” But Kaelyn has a service dog, JJ, that has been trained to somehow sense when Kaelyn is in danger from an allergy trigger. According to the CBS News story, the former shelter dog started his service dog career as a canine that could detect high and low blood sugars in patients with diabetes. Kaelyn’s mother, Michelle Krawczyk, approached JJ’s trainer and asked if the dog could be taught how to monitor Kaelyn’s condition. And, perhaps amazingly, it turned out that he could. According to the article, if JJ senses a threatening situation for Kaelyn, he will first start running in circles, possibly before Kaelyn herself realizes she is going to be sick. As the trigger gets worse and Kaelyn is in greater danger, JJ will start barking, and finally, start tugging on an adult to let him or her know that something is seriously wrong. The article stated that JJ even knows how to fetch an EpiPen located in Kaelyn’s home or to go into Kaelyn’s mother’s purse to retrieve the injectable medication. In a News & Observer article, Kaelyn’s mother was quoted as saying, “JJ has made it possible for us to give KK a more normal life.” Dr. Taicher said that JJ is the first dog he is aware of who has been trained to monitor Kaelyn’s particular condition. “I don’t think that it is terribly surprising that both dogs and humans are far more complicated that we sometimes pretend,” Dr. Taicher was quoted as saying in the CBS News article. “We don’t understand the interactions that are at work, but we can always appreciate them when we see them.” In an ABC News story, it was reported that in late December 2013, doctors allowed JJ and her trainer to accompany Kaelyn into the operating room at the Duke University Medical Center, where she was to have exploratory kidney surgery. The dog was there to alert the anesthesiologist in advance of a reaction so they could ward it off with medication before it became life-threatening. JJ was trained at Eyes, Ears, Nose, and Paws in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. [CBS News article] [News & Observer article] [ABC News article] [Eyes, Ears, Nose, and Paws]