Yearbook release day is always a big deal among students, but Stafford High School’s 2016-2017 yearbook tops them all.
When 18-year-old senior Diana Bloom opened her yearbook, she was surprised to see a black labrador pictured among the individual student photos. She snapped a photo, shared it on Twitter, and well, the rest is history. Diana told Babble she didn’t expect such an overwhelming response. Thus far, the tweet has been shared over 3K times and has received over 9K likes.
The side-by-side photos of Alpha Schalk and his owner Andrew “AJ” Schalk tell an incredible story of love and devotion.
AJ, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 9, relies on Alpha to alert him if his blood sugar becomes dangerously low or high. Alpha came into AJ’s life in January 2016 and is now with him 24/7, accompanying him everywhere, including class.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when a person’s body attacks beta cells — the cells responsible for making insulin, the life-sustaining hormone that helps regulate a person’s blood sugar. A type 1 diabetic needs to inject insulin with syringes or utilize an insulin pump, check their blood sugar multiple times a day, and carefully monitor their diet, activity, and stress level. Somewhere between 5-10 percent of diabetics have type 1 diabetes, like AJ.
Alpha’s job is to keep AJ healthy, because high and low blood sugars can be dangerous — even deadly. A high blood sugar can cause dehydration, grogginess, and vomiting, among other symptoms. If high blood sugar is not corrected with insulin, a type 1 diabetic can go into a state called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) where the body begins to shut down. A low blood sugar can cause shaking, sweating, confusion, and fainting. Some type 1 diabetics have passed away from “dead in bed syndrome” when low blood sugar level is left undetected and untreated.
Alpha uses his “keen sense of smell” to detect AJ’s blood sugar. And miraculously, AJ reports to Babble that Alpha knows 20-40 minutes before AJ’s blood sugar is high or low! Alpha notifies AJ by giving him “a paw,” according to AJ.
The yearbook photo was quite a surprise to the student body, but not to AJ. He tells Babble:
“Yes, I knew Alpha would be in the yearbook, I had talked to a friend of mine in yearbook, and we took it up with the teachers and administration and they all loved the idea! I told all my friends that Alpha would be in the yearbook, so if people didn’t know me, they were surprised!”
What do AJ’s peers think of Alpha? “Everyone at school loves Alpha, they love seeing him at school everyday, and he really brightens everyone’s day, just being in the hallway with me, and accompanying me in class.”
As a type 1 diabetic myself, this story is particularly incredible. Alpha and AJ’s teamwork is not only heartwarming, it’s a literal tale of life, health, and hope. Type 1 diabetics are always walking a fine line between good health and danger, and luckily for AJ, he has a furry friend to help keep him strong, aware, and happy.
AJ shared with Babble that Alpha isn’t merely another diabetic tool. “Alpha is a blessing, a lifesaver, and more importantly, my best friend. We have an unbreakable bond and that feeling is absolutely amazing.”