© 2020 Lauren Burke

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   WHO AM I   

I was born and raised in Orange County, California, and moved up to the Bay Area to attend Mills College in 2012, where I graduated with degrees in each Biology and Business Economics. After graduating from Mills, I was placed with Ricki, my incredible life-saving labrador. After working for a few months in Oakland with Ricki, we packed up and moved back to southern California to help take care of my grandpa with Alzheimer's. After struggling through caretaking for two years, I moved back up to the Bay Area to continue my work with Early Alert Canines (EAC). Now that I'm no longer working with EAC, I'm working to figure out what my life's plan is.

 

While in OC from Feb 2017 - Feb 2019, I was working part time with Early Alert Canines, but also started designing websites. This allowed me to use my lifelong hobby of photography and mix it with something practical. I helped redesign a site for a nonprofit, and then redesigned EAC's website. Once that was done, I started a redesign for a small deli my family frequented, Orange Tree Deli

I'm currently in transition, trying to figure out exactly where I want to go with my life. It's looking like I will head to graduate school and earn my MBA in the next few years, but sometimes life has its own plans! Stay tuned to see where life takes us!

MY DX STORY 

On November 14, 2005, I was diagnosed with type one diabetes. It was one month and one day past my 12th birthday, though my onset was sometime in July/August. I went to a year-round school, so we had a 5 or 6 week summer from mid-June to the end of July, then 10 weeks in school and three weeks off (or so) for the rest of the year. During my first few weeks in 6th grade, I came down with a pretty bad cold. I was sick for a week, ok for a week or two, sick for a week, ok for a week or two. I spent most of July and August with a nasty cold. My mom said my "sick breath" never went away (now we know: ketosis). Once at school, I was peeing a LOT. At first my teacher thought I was just a troublemaker who wanted out of class, so she started checking in with me and keeping an eye on me during recess and lunch to make sure I was using the bathroom. During recess, I would pee as soon as we were released, and once again before we went in, and I'd pee three times during lunch. We came up with a special signal so I could go out and pee all day long. Thankfully, no one questioned me or made fun of me for it, so I was never embarrassed. My mom was convinced it was just a bladder infection and it would pass, but it didn't.

In late September, our class went to outdoor ed. We took a school bus up to Mountain Chai, which was more than two hours away, and stayed in cabins for a week. On the way up, my mom stayed with me all morning to keep me from drinking water. I was so terrified of having to pee on the bus I wore my big parka all morning hoping to raise my body temperature enough to keep me from going (they checked everyone's temp before leaving to hold back any sick kids). Sadly, even though it worked, my teacher made me go anyway. With my mom's support, I made the trip up there, but as soon as we arrived, I chugged about a gallon of water. On the hikes on the trip, I would quickly finish my own canteen of water, and start drinking other people's water. The counselors would have to cut me off so I didn't drink all the water they brought! I became a pro at peeing in the woods, and I had several counselors show concern over my drinking habits. On the way back, I didn't have the self-restraint to keep myself from drinking. I did the best I could, but it wasn't enough. About halfway back to school, I couldn't hold my pee anymore... We were on a standard school bus, and the bus driver wasn't permitted to stop until we got back to school. I ended up having to pee in a trash can on the school bus. We had a student teacher with us on the bus, and she had some students move seats so the front two rows were clear. She had me squat over a trash can and used her jacket to cover me. I peed all over the place, because moving bus and trash can, and had never felt so horrible in my entire life. Thankfully my friends were super supportive, and everyone rallied around me instead of making me feel awful.

Over our fall break, my family went on a road trip to Sedona, AZ. The drive was about 7.5 hours long, and every half-hour I would need to stop to pee. I couldn't keep myself from drinking water, my mouth was so dry, and I was SO thirsty! It was that trip that made my mom realize something more serious might be wrong. When we got back, she made an appointment with my pediatrician on November 14th— ironically, that is World Diabetes Day. He had me pee in a cup and my ketones were a deep purple. He sent me to the lab for blood work, and told my mom we might need to go to the ER at the Children's Hospital that night. Sure enough, at around 8pm, we got the call.

My A1c wasn't super high, and my blood sugars were only in the low 500s, so while I was in ketosis, I wasn't DKA. I wasn't even in the hospital for 24 hours! We checked in, they gave me some Humalog and Lantus, let me sleep a little, and then the next day they taught us as much as they could before sending me home around 5pm. My mom took a month off from work to learn everything she could, and I worked as hard as I could to earn an insulin pump. By April 2006 I had my cute blue Medtronic Minimed pump, and the next October I was a Youth Ambassador in my first diabetes walk.  I was an advocate from day 1! 

I was incredibly lucky in so many ways. My onset was slow, so I wasn't nearly comatose. My first day back from school, my classmates had tied balloons to my chair and filled my desk with notes for well wishes and sugar-free candy. There was another girl in my grade at school who was T1, so she helped show me the ropes. When I got my first cold post-dx, she sent a note home with my next door neighbor suggesting I give a little extra Lantus, because colds throw your blood sugar off.  When I was getting ready to get my pump, the Black Eyed Peas' song Pump It! was super popular, so all the guys in my class would yell "Pump it! LOUDER!" at me whenever they saw me. I had a great school nurse, who was there one day a week, but she never questioned me or the decisions I was making regarding my diabetes. Even in middle school, the health clerk trusted me to make my own decisions, and I never once had a problem in public school. 

My third day in college, I was sitting in calculus, and my Medtronic sensor was going off. The woman sitting behind me tapped me on the shoulder as I cursed at it to shut up and clear the alarm. I turned around, expecting to apologize for my device going off, and much to my surprise, she was holding her Medtronic pump and smiling the biggest smile you'd ever seen. We both squealed, so excited to have found our people, and have been best friends since. 

I feel diabetes, as sucky as it is, can be a truly incredible thing. I wouldn't be the person I am today! Not even close! I wouldn't have my job, I wouldn't have chosen the college I did, I wouldn't have my best friend, and most of all, I wouldn't have my incredible dog. Every day is a struggle with diabetes! You're constantly fighting to stay alive, struggling to keep your blood sugar in range. But it's made me a strong, independent, spirited young woman. It's brought me so many friendships, partnerships, and opportunities. It taught me to advocate for myself and stand up for what I think is right. It's taught me to question doctors, because half the time they don't know what they're talking about. I'm grateful for this awful disorder, as sucky as it is.

ABOUT RICKI & EAC 

While I was in high school, my endocrinologist told me about service dogs that could alert on blood sugar levels, and as soon as I got to college, I began researching. I knew I wanted a dog; dogs have always been super important to me, and having a service dog to help with my diabetes would be about the greatest thing I could ever imagine. I initially applied in 2012 with a different organization, also in Concord, who accepted me, and I started working to meet all their pre-dog requirements. Somewhere along the way I called to check on the status of where I was on the waitlist, and they told me I'd been removed from the list, and to stop calling.

 

I was devastated, but was living with my boyfriend at the time, whose dog was alerting on my blood sugar levels. I knew enough about dog training that I began working with the dog on becoming a service dog, and he did great! He weighed as much as I did at the time, but was super good at his job. The primary problem was his human and I didn't get along very well, and eventually we broke up. The dog wasn't mine, so once again I was left without an alert dog. That led me to research other organizations, and eventually I found Early Alert Canines (EAC). I applied in the spring of my junior year (spring 2015), spent the summer redoing blood sugar logs (they wanted SIX finger stick readings a day for a month!), and then I waited.

In October of 2015, my parents had to put down our family dog, who had very aggressive breast cancer, on the day after my birthday. I decided to call EAC and tear the bandaid off-- either they would reject me, and I'd get all my bad news over with, or they would accept me, and I would have a light at the end of the tunnel. Thankfully, they had accepted me! I had missed the last class by a month, so I knew I would be waiting for a while!

In June 2016 we had orientation, and on August 1, 2016, we began team training. Because I'd lost two female yellow labs over the previous three years, I requested to not have a female yellow lab... Naturally I got one of two yellow females (of six total dogs) in our training string. They place dogs based on personality, and I know Ricki is a perfect fit, but it took me a little longer to adjust and bond with her because of the pain. She looks so much like my childhood lab, Sugar, who was put down (two weeks after Ricki was born) in November 2013. 

Here is Ricki alerting at a 61 as I packed my apartment in Oakland in January 2017.

Ricki was the rockstar of the class. She was the first to alert, her behavior was perfect, and she was the model student. I was so lucky. We met our graduation requirements immediately (alerting at 80% accuracy for 4 of 6 consecutive weeks— Ricki made it in just 4 weeks, it usually takes people 2-3 months to meet requirements), and she would regularly catch lows when I would nap (I was a big napper at the time). When I got a job in downtown Oakland, we would take the bus to work, and she did great. We flew home for Thanksgiving, and she impressed everyone! She is a very good dog.

Ricki alerts on my blood sugar by smell. She can smell highs, lows, and changing by greater than about 7%. She generally catches my numbers at least 20 minutes before my Dexcom catches them, sometimes she's so far ahead I have to do three or four finger sticks 10 minutes apart to figure out which direction I'm moving! Before I got Ricki, I would be going about my business and then I'd sit down for a meal and check and I'd be 45. I wouldn't feel it at all! Since I've had Ricki, she hasn't let me get below 50 more than twice. Sometimes my Dexcom will say I'm URGENT LOW UNDER 50, but a finger stick will show 65... Now that we have been together for three years, I feel my lows around 80, and I rarely find myself lower than 80. I was doing everything I could to get my A1c below 7 before her, but was unable. After having Ricki for a year, my A1c was down to 6.5, then stayed 6.3 a year and a half, and has been below 6 for the last 6 months! I owe everything to this dog.

 

Ricki was raised to be a Guide Dog for the Blind by a wonderful family in Salinas, CA. She made it all the way to Phase 8 and was about to be placed with a blind person when they decided she's just a little too dog distracted, so they career changed her to be a diabetes alert dog (DAD). Her sister, Ravenna, also became a DAD. Of the eight dogs in her litter, two are DADs, one is a breeder, one is a mystery (I can't find her), and four are working guides. 

 

After our team training was over in 2016, I began to volunteer taking care of EAC's social media. I slowly stepped up what I was doing with them, and in mid 2017, while in OC taking care of my grandpa, I began working part time remotely with EAC. I redid their website, ran social media, worked on the fundraising events, did marketing and fundraising emails, and would do presentations with some local groups. I slowly started spending more time up north, and in April of 2019, I moved back up on a more permanent basis to work with EAC.

As of December 2019, I've stepped down from my role to concentrate on my future. Early Alert Canines will always have a special place in my heart, but it is time for Ricki and I to go off and achieve bigger and better things!