Sophomore Luke Van Ginkel is the kicker for the top-ranked Upland High School Football team. And on the sidelines at every practice and game, watching his every move, is his lifesaver and service dog Astro.
Astro’s job is to sense when Van Ginkel's blood sugar dips to a dangerous level.
Van Ginkel has Type 1 Diabetes, and his blood sugar can fall without warning, especially when he is asleep. If it gets too low, he could die if he doesn’t address it quickly.
That’s where Astro comes in. He has been trained to alert Van Ginkel and his family when he senses a potentially dangerous drop in Van Ginkel’s blood sugar.
"I was asleep, he started whining a lot, and woke me up, and I told my mom I was feeling low. And she tested me I turned out to be low," Van Ginkel recalled.
Astro was trained at Canine Hope for Diabetics, where the dogs are taught to be obedient and alert. From the time they are puppies, they are taught to recognize the scent of low blood sugar, according to Johanna Reynolds from Canine Hope for Diabetics.
But how they do it still a bit of a mystery.
"It’s still being investigated," Reynolds said. "The thought at this point is that the dog can smell the chemical change in the body that’s a result of fluctuating blood sugars."
Frank Wisneski said his service dog, Major, saved his daughter’s life by alerting them last Christmas that she was about to have a dangerous episode.
"This dog gave us a 45 minute to an hour head start at which point she could have very easily slipped into a coma. By the time we would have realized it on our own, and gotten her the treatment or to the hospital, there wouldn’t be enough time," Wisneski said. "This dog absolutely saved her life that day."
So Van Ginkel keeps Astro at his side, and at his games.
"He’s like my buddy, my best friend. He goes with me everywhere he’s always with me," he said. "He’s gonna be with me through my whole high school football career, hopefully go to college with me, too."