Ava Hata is 11-years-old. She’s a type-A personality, who is outgoing, witty, and a straight-A student who rarely has homework – most days she manages to finish it all at school. Ava is also a Type 1 Diabetic…with a mission to help others understand her illness. Ava refers to her diabetes as a “gift,” believing that she has a calling to educate others about life as a diabetic.
Type 1 Diabetes can occur at any age. It is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin. Insulin is needed to move blood sugar into cells, where it is stored for energy. When the beta cells produce little or no insulin, Type 1 Diabetes emerges. Type 1 Diabetes has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle, and it cannot be prevented or cured. Ava is among more than one million Americans living with Type 1 Diabetes, and one of roughly 200,000 children with the disease, yet she maintains a sense of humor as she faces her challenges with courage and perseverance, an example of the American Spirit. Ava jokes, “When people ask me ‘do you exercise?’, I really want to say, ‘If exercise cured diabetes, I would have a bicycle surgically attached to my body!’ So I just have to educate people without saying that.”
Diabetic Alert Assistance Dogs have been around for roughly ten years, almost as long as Ava has been alive. Not long ago, the Hata family acquired a diabetic assistance service dog for their daughter, who she promptly named Bruin, after her favorite sports team, the UCLA Bruins. He’s nearly two years old and his breed is a flat-coated-retriever. Bruin has been trained so that his highly sensitive nose can identify the chemistry changes in Ava’s blood sugar levels. Bruin will tug at a Velcro bringsel attached to Ava’s jeans to alert her that insulin injections may be in order. His bringsel is typically a short stick made of cloth and stuffed with polyfiber. Obviously wise beyond her years, Ava claims it was she who learned from Bruin. “Actually, the dog taught me how to train diabetic alert dogs, how to be patient, how to communicate with the dogs and deal with people,” she said. Every day, before and after school, Ava works with Bruin on his obedience, blood sugar detection techniques and how to get the attention of other adults.
Type 1 Diabetes strikes both children and adults at any age. It comes on suddenly, causes dependence on injected or pumped insulin for life, and carries the constant threat of devastating complications. Ava has what she calls “tools” that she carries everywhere. A meter to test her blood sugar, along with paper test strips, because every two hours she has to test her blood sugar to make sure it’s at healthy levels. If the levels are high, the meter will communicate with an insulin pump to administer the correct dose of insulin to Ava. Unlike other kids, Ava has to check her blood sugar at least 10 times a day; everything she eats is measured and every carbohydrate counted. Her kit goes with her everywhere. Too much exercise or not eating all her food can also be dangerous. Ava carries her insulin kit with her to school and recently became the first student on her campus to be accompanied by her Diabetic Alert Dog, Bruin.
Living with Diabetes is a constant challenge. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation is aggressively driving research toward a cure; the Hata family is part of that movement and started a non-profit organization called “T 1 MOD Squad,” which stands for Type 1 Mothers-of-Diabetics”. It also has a Facebook group for parents to share the latest information and get support. Ava maintains her own website, sharing her personal story and experiences at www.teamavaandbruin.com.
Bruin is the unsung hero in this little girl’s life. He’s been called a K-9 Ambassador in her community and is also a lover of hot dogs, cheese, and playing on the trampoline. Their love and friendship go well beyond that of a girl and her dog.
In the short time they’ve been together, Bruin has already alerted Ava too many times to count that her life was dangerously close to catastrophe. Ava says she and Bruin were simply meant to be together; she calls him an educator and lifesaver. Grateful for the community support she has, Ava wants to give back, which is typical of the American Spirit, by training diabetic dogs for other children with Type 1 Diabetes. One day she hopes to be a veterinarian training services dogs around the nation.
That’s the American Spirit.
Mary Parks, Television Personality, Award-Winning Journalist