Elle & Coach by Stefany Shaheen is the story of Shaheen’s oldest daughter Elle (pronounced “Ellie”) who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 8. This book was recently published in August and I am pleased to have been given a complimentary copy along with the opportunity to share my views of the book. As always, the opinions expressed are my own.
Both the front and back covers of Elle & Coach show a lovely young women along with a handsome yellow labrador retriever. The title of the book mentions “Coach” and the subtitle is “Diabetes, the Fight for My Daughter’s Life, and the Dog Who Changed Everything.” So why doesn’t THE DOG make an appearance until halfway through the book?!?!
The answer to that question is why Elle & Coach is an educational, and inspiring book. For those of us in the diabetes community, the story of Elle’s Type 1 diagnosis is a familiar one with injections, fingersticks, hospital/doctor visits, and wild swings in blood sugar. We have lived with the unrelenting fear, stress, and blame. Through the early chapters of the book Shaheen does a good job of describing the physical and emotional impact of a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis on a child, the parents, and the entire family. We know the story.
If you have difficulty explaining to your relatives and friends the impact of diabetes on your life and that of your family, hand them this book. The story (and of course the beautiful dog!) is compelling enough to keep outsiders reading. They will learn the basics of Type 1 diabetes, the unending daily tasks required, the longterm impact of the disease, the role of technology, the eternal hope for a cure, and the importance of advocacy at both a local and national level. Admittedly a Type-A mother, Shaheen is not a whiner and she has spent the last eight years working to help people and families impacted by diabetes and other chronic conditions. Similarly, Elle has been a diabetes advocate from a young age and has shared her story with people from community leaders to the President of the United States.
Now enter THE DOG! Elle and Shaheen learned about Diabetic Alert Dogs (DAD’s) at the 2011 JDRF Children’s Congress where they were witnesses to a young girl and her DAD in action. Initially Elle was not interested in a companion dog, but her mother was inspired to begin researching the use of medic-alert dogs with diabetes. The rest is history as Coach and Elle became a team in the spring of 2013.
The second half of the book describes the magical ability of certain dogs to sense blood sugar changes in humans and the journey of the Shaheen family to obtain a diabetic alert dog for Elle. The beginning of Elle and Coach’s partnership is fascinating and heart-warming. Right away Coach alerted properly to Elle’s out-of-range blood sugars and very quickly began easing the burden of diabetes on the entire family. There were a few bumps in the road and these occurred because although the dog was superbly trained, his humans had a lot of learn!
If you are interested in a diabetic alert dog, Elle & Coach is a good starting point to learn about how to obtain a DAD and some of the adjustments required to fit such a dog into your world. Shaheen wisely emphasizes the need to do your homework to determine if an alert dog is appropriate for you and the responsibilities of living with such a dog. Expense, public access issues, the need for ongoing training, and the 24/7/365 nature of the handler/dog relationship are some of the topics addressed.
I wore many hats as I read this book. I have Type 1 diabetes and know the intimate details of living with this challenging condition. I am a mother and grandmother who gives daily thanks that none of my children and grandchildren have been diagnosed with diabetes. Elle & Coach reinforces my belief that most of the time it is easier being the person with diabetes as opposed to the parents and people who love us:-) I am a dog-lover and the owner of Abby the Black Lab who at age 9 does not react to my blood sugars but might have been trainable at a younger age. In summary, all of my D-roles enjoyed this book and think that you should find a spot in your diabetes library for this story.
Elle & Coach is available in hardcover, e-book, and audiobook and is available at major booksellers. Click here for more details.
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If you’d like to read more blogposts about diabetes alert dogs, check out: