By Jeff Benziger
Big hearts often beat in little people.
When several local children heard about a little girl’s need for a service dog brought on by a recent diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes, they jumped into action to raise funds.
They collectively raised approximately $20,000 to obtain a Diabetic Alert dog that could ultimately save the life of Ellie Hart, 7, a third-grader at Whitmore Charter School in Ceres. She is the daughter of two Ceres school teachers – Emily Hart who teaches at Sinclear Elementary School, and Brian Hart, a second-grade teacher at La Rosa Elementary.
The Harts learned in February that Ellie had diabetes after she reported not feeling well at school and had a tough time breathing.
“She said she couldn’t dance after school, which is a big deal for her to say she can’t do something,” said Emily Hart. Ellie went to her doctor, who then urgently sent her to be tested at a hospital in Santa Clara. Ellie spent a week in the hospital and the diagnosis has changed her life.
“It’s been life changing for sure,” said her mother. “I never knew what it all entailed.”
Ellie is subjected now to eight to 14 tests of her blood sugar each day and up to 10 insulin injections per day to stay alive since her blood sugar fluctuates into life-threatening ranges.
The third and fifth grade La Rosa School nephews of Emily Hart got together with two boys from Turlock to host a Jog-a-thon to raise almost $2,700.
The boys were inspired by Clark Van Gaalen, 9, of Turlock, who volunteered to hold a golf-a-thon at the Turlock Country Club to benefit Ellie. The effort, which ended on Tuesday, Aug. 11, raised over $14,000. Clark attends fourth grade at Keyes Charter School and played 100 holes of golf and sought out pledges. The only connection Clark has to the Harts is that Emily Hart is a patient of his father’s dental practice.
The golf-a-thon inspired nephews Jackson Hart and Lincoln Hart to seek pledges for their July jog-a-thon. Their event collected approximately $2,700.
“They ended up getting a little paper and handwrote it out and went to some neighbors and then like 20 minutes they came back with over $300. It was crazy.”
With the funds raised, the Harts are in the process of ordering a service dog, which is complicated and takes 18 months to two years. The dog will be trained to sense when Ellie’s blood sugar level is in trouble and alert others to give her shots, especially while she is sleeping.
“It’s quite the process and it is expensive but we know it’s worth it,” said her mother.
The dog is being ordered from Alert Service Dogs of Indianapolis, Ind. The dog is specifically trained from puppyhood to react to the chemical change produced by blood sugar highs and lows. To train the dog for his long-distance client, the Harts must send countless samples of Ellie’s scents on shirts and through saliva samples based on low and high glucose levels.
“Diabetes is a life-threatening autoimmune disease and your life is in danger every day. They say it is the silent disease so sometimes she’ll have symptoms especially if going low and other times she doesn’t have symptoms and you can go unconscious and pass out and go into a coma which is dangerous, and could die. When you go to sleep at night it’s one of the very most dangerous times of all. It actually gives me goosebumps when I talk about it. The dog will wake us up at night if she goes too low and let us know that she is not okay.”
The Harts feel a tremendous amount of gratitude and pride for the actions of the youngsters who got involved.
“It’s all these little kids who wanted to help. It was their own thing. They make a big difference and bought Ellie a dog.”
The community has also contributed to the project, including $500 from a Turlock fire station and money from the Rotary Club.
Some photos of Clark’s golf-a-thon are on a Facebook page titled Clark’s Drive “Fore” Ellie to Thrive.