Beth Saint had no idea her daughter was so close to dying.
It was just weeks before 10-year-old Olivia Saint was to start fifth grade when she came down with flu-like symptoms. Her lethargy would come and go, but never seemed to completely clear up. Then one day Olivia took a turn for the worse. “Her color was off,” Beth recalls. “She just didn’t look very good at all.”
She took her daughter to the emergency room, where doctors discovered her blood sugar was a startling 1180 – 10 times higher than normal. She was on the verge of going into a diabetic coma.
“It was touch and go for a while,” Beth says. Her daughter was taken by ambulance to Children’s of Alabama, and put directly in the pediatric intensive care unit. Olivia was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and the Saints’ lives changed forever.
“Everything around us, our lifestyle, everything had to change. It was a huge undertaking,” Beth says. The Saints were taught by the staff at Children’s how to check Olivia’s blood sugar levels, give insulin injections, and the importance of following a rigid diet. “It wasn’t optional. It was mandatory.”
The entire Saint family became involved in the process. They changed their eating habits and did away with unhealthy snacks. And they work together to make sure Olivia’s blood sugar stayed in check. Shortly after her diagnosis, she was given an insulin pump, which made managing her disease easier.
Last August, Olivia received a service dog, Bella. The dog was trained to give a distinct bark when she senses Olivia’s breath smelling sweet (indicating that her blood sugar is too high) or sour (indicating that her blood sugar is too low). Bella has alerted the Saints that Olivia’s blood sugar was off about 15 times since they got her, more than proving her worth.
Olivia is now 13 years old and enjoys many of the same activities as any seventh-grader. “Living with diabetes can be very stressful because you have to deal with it all the time. Your whole life revolves around what you eat,” Beth says. “But she doesn’t dwell on her diabetes. She never asks ‘Why me?’ She’s just a very happy girl.”