s
s
Sections
Sections
Subscribe
You've read 5 of 15 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read 10 of 15 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read all of your free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
We've got a special deal for readers like you.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Thanks for reading! Why not subscribe?
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Want to keep reading? Subscribe today!
Ooops! You're out of free articles. Starting at just 99 cents per month, you can keep reading all of our products and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?

Steve Wolf, a Santa Rosa family practice physician, is a diabetic who has hypoglycemic unawareness, meaning he does not sense the symptoms, such as shakiness, sweating and weakness, of a plunging blood sugar level.

Kermit, a yellow Labrador diabetic alert dog trained to warn Wolf of such episodes — frequent for an insulin-dependent diabetic — is also proficient at intelligent disobedience, meaning he can ignore his master's commands when his nose knows better.

Together, they are a perfect pair, as Wolf discovered on the first day with Kermit in March 2012.

At a World Diabetes Day program on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, Wolf recalled that morning, when he was leaving home in Windsor and Kermit refused to get into the car.

Wolf quickly checked his blood sugar level, testing a drop of blood in a small glucometer, and found it was 60 milligrams per deciliter, well below the preferred range of 80 to 130.

"The very first day I had him he saved my life," Wolf told an audience of about 80 people.

Before he got Kermit, Wolf's blood sugar had once plummeted to 40 while he driving south on Highway 101 and managed to pull off the highway safely.

"I couldn't remember how to shift my car," he said.

Ingesting sugar or simple carbohydrates restores a diabetic's blood sugar level, but knowing when to do it can be a matter of life and death.

At an earlier session Thursday, world-class triathlete Jay Hewitt recounted how he gets through a 140-mile swim, bike and run Ironman competition with diabetes.

"I never forget during the Ironman that I have diabetes," said Hewitt, 46, a former member of the U.S. national triathlon team. "I forget they (the other athletes) don't."

Checking his blood sugar in the transition moments between swimming, cycling and running — and several times during the 26-mile marathon — Hewitt said he keeps his blood sugar between 100 and 150 by eating and drinking on the move.

The ecstasy of the last 150 meters, running past cheering spectators and loud music, helps him fight through the stabbing, burning pain of the marathon.

"I do it for the finish line," said Hewitt, who was diagnosed with diabetes in 1991.

He challenged other diabetics to set high goals and risk failure. "If it's easy, it's not worth doing," he said.

Amber Gentry, 36, of Santa Rosa, who was diagnosed at age 13, said she thought she was doing well by playing softball at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg in 1996.

"That extreme is like crazy to me," Gentry said after hearing Hewitt's talk.

With Kermit relaxed at his feet, Wolf explained that diabetic alert dogs are trained to detect the scent of low blood sugar, which is universal.

Combining that with recognition of his master's distinct scent, Kermit can pick up Wolf's falling blood sugar level from another room or amid a crowd of kids at a diabetes camp.

Kristin Schmidt of Forestville, who attended Thursday night's program without her alert dog, said she is rarely separated from Rochelle, a yellow Labrador.

"She's my best friend," said Schmidt, 18, who graduated from Analy High School in June and now attends Santa Rosa Junior College — with Rochelle.

Diagnosed with diabetes in 2006, Schmidt got Rochelle about a year later, enabling her to give up homeschooling and attend public school.

Rochelle alerts her five to 10 times a day, and "she's always right," Schmidt said.

Relying on the dog's keen nose frees her from constant worry about her blood sugar level. "It's great peace of mind," Schmidt said.

Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation sponsored the World Diabetes Day program along with Novo Nordisk, a Danish health care company, and Medtronic, a medical device maker with an office in Santa Rosa.

Nadine Giovannini of Santa Rosa, an avid cyclist who was diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes last year at age 47, said she was inspired by Hewitt to push her limits.

Giovannini, who injects herself with insulin six times a day, said she is comfortable riding 60 to 70 miles but wants to go farther.

"I'd like to do a century," she said, referring to a 100-mile ride.

Joe Ross, a Santa Rosa retiree, said he appreciated hearing Wolf's report that his own average blood sugar level, known as an A1C, had gone up a bit since he got Kermit.

A higher level is good, Ross said, for someone like him, who is borderline diabetic and suffers "real bad lows" in blood sugar.

Ross said he has controlled his condition by losing weight with a healthier diet, exercising more and meditating to reduce stress.

"It's hard work to take care of yourself," he said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.)