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JoAnna Lou
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Operating Room Pup
Medical alert dog plays an important role during a girl's surgery

Kaelyn "KK" Krawczyk has had a severe form of mastocytosis since she was two months old. The rare disease can trigger an abnormal accumulation of mast cells on vital organs, which leads to allergic inflammation. For the 7-year old Apex, N.C. girl, these allergic reactions can quickly become fatal. And the worse part is that the triggers are hard to predict and can stem from simple, everyday things, such as temperature changes, exercise, or medication.

For most of her life, KK had to be monitored all night long since even hot blankets could cause a dangerous reaction. As a result, doctors warned the family that KK may not even be able to attend school.

18 months ago, a medical alert dog named JJ changed all that. The talented terrier can smell cell changes before a reaction becomes serious, warn her parents (by barking and tugging at their clothes), and fetch her medical kit. JJ played a special role recently, working in the operating room at Duke University Medical Center to alert doctors to KK's bad reactions to anesthesia in her exploratory kidney surgery (the first dog I've heard of that was allowed in the operating room!).

KK's mother, Michelle, says that JJ alerts hospital staff before their "fancy equipment" and has "made believers out of those who didn't believe."

JJ was trained in scent detection by Deb Cunningham, the program director at Eyes Ears Nose and Paws, a nonprofit service dog agency in Chapel Hill.  

As if JJ's story isn't amazing enough, the little pup was rescued from an animal shelter. Deb has never trained a terrier before and doesn't usually work with shelter dogs, but had a chance encounter when she was working with Golden Retrievers at the local animal rescue.  

Deb was training JJ to be a diabetic alert dog when the Krawczyk family contacted her about a pup for KK. Just one month into specialized training with KK, JJ responded during one of the girl's worst reactions.  

Deb says that JJ has surpassed her expectations for what an alert dog can do.  Not only has she likely saved KK's life many times, she even "diagnosed" a family friend who didn't know she had diabetes.

JJ has given KK the chance to enjoy a more normal childhood and has given her parents a little peace of mind. What an incredible pup!

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Shawn Rocco/Duke Medicine.

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