Six-year-old Ian Christensenâs life is full of pinpricks. His morning begins with a blood test to check sugar levels. Itâs followed with a pump of insulin.
âIf we donât inject it, he could die,â Ianâs mom, Katrina Christensen, told CNN.
But most painful for Ian are those constant emotional pinpricks; moments when Type 1 diabetes robs the spirited kindergartener of a normal childhood.
âYou donât understand what itâs like unless you live with it. You canât get away from it,â his mother said in her Sand Lake, Michigan, home.
The most recent blow was a decision to stop Ian from riding the school bus. His parents and the school system did not want to risk the boyâs blood sugar crashing while no adult was available to help.
âHe canât read yet. He canât control the pumps.â Her sonâs friends are way too young to help on the bus. Ian was crushed. But then Katrina found out about a new friend her son could make, one who could help him manage his diabetes on the bus.
Diabetes service dogs are highly trained to detect the subtle smells in a diabeticâs breath before the pernicious effects of plummeting blood sugar kick in. With a gentle paw, an assist dog could alert Ian to swallow an emergency sweet and head off a bad situation.
The good news, Ian would be allowed to take a service animal on the school bus.
The bad news, an assist dog would cost more than $20,000.
The price tag was high. But so too was resolve in the Christensen family. When Ian was first diagnosed two years ago, Katrinaâs brother uncle Aaron weighed in with some hard-earned wisdom. He has struggled with diabetes since age 10.
âHeâs blind, had a kidney transplant and amputation because of it,â Katrina said. âItâs a blessing Ian sees what can happen.â The uncleâs advice: be proactive.
âHis main thing was âyou control diabetes. Donât let it control you.’â
The family set out to raise funds to get Ian a diabetes service dog.
The Christensens tried to raise the money several different ways. They auctioned off a few belongings and sold spaghetti plates. Ian even hawked lemonade. But the most successful fundraiser came through the familyâs annual pumpkin sale.
âWeâve been selling pumpkins for probably 15 or 20 years now,â Ianâs mother said. âWe have a huge garden, and we grow a few hundred pumpkins every year.â
At first, the pumpkin sale didnât seem like it would raise enough money. But then word got out.
âA stranger who bought pumpkins from Ian made a Facebook post about it, and it blew up. It had about 2,000 shares.â
That post led to offers of help â and the occasional pumpkin order â from across the country.
âWe eventually started aÂ fundraiserÂ and hit our goal in just three days,â Katrina said. She cried all day as the goal came within reach.
Now there is actually a surplus that âIan wants to donate to other kids. Heâs always thinking about helping everybody else. I couldnât be any luckier to be his mother.â
âIan was put here for this reason â to bring awareness to diabetes and to help others who suffer from it.â
The service dog will join Ian in about 10 months. The dogâs intense training and unique abilities will lift a tremendous burden off the boyâs exhausted parents in a way no human can.
âRight now, he canât go anywhere alone. One of his parents has to be with him whenever outside of school,â Katrina stressed. âItâs a lot to put on someone to train and teach them. Itâs hours of information. I canât give away that responsibility. I would die for him. Someone else wouldnât.â
But the bond between boy and dog has a long history of love and sacrifice. Itâs storied. Itâs proven. Itâs the norm.
And for Ian, itâs a giant step forward in his quest to be a normal kid.