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Shaheen family praises diabetes alert dog for daughter in new book

The member of the Shaheen family getting all the attention this week isn’t Senator Jeanne Shaheen — or even her daughter, Portsmouth City Councilor Stefany Shaheen. It’s her 15-year-old granddaughter, Elle.

Well, and Elle’s dog, Coach.

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The two are stars of a new memoir written by her mom, titled “Elle & Coach: Diabetes, the Fight for my Daughter’s Life, and the Dog Who Changed Everything.”

Elle Shaheen has Type 1 diabetes, meaning her body does not produce any insulin. She takes eight to 10 shots of synthetic insulin a day and constantly checks her blood sugar levels. If her levels are too low, she risks seizure. If her insulin levels are too high, she risks organ damage.

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It’s Coach’s job to detect shifts in Elle’s insulin level based on scent and alert her – sometimes with a wet nose to the face or paw in her lap – when they are out of whack.

“Our hope is that we can touch people who have faced some sort of obstacle or challenge and overcome it,” Stefany Shaheen said during a quick telephone interview this week.

Life, she said, was “very difficult” after Elle, the oldest of four, was diagnosed at age 8. The family spent years waiting for “advances in treatment and technology that were promised that still haven’t arrived yet.”

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But they have found resolve in Coach, who despite some initial skepticism by Stefany Shaheen, has engendered confidence that Elle will live a life based on her dreams not her disease.

“The relief we feel having him along with her is she’s going to grow up to become an independent adult,” she said. Coach “provides reassurance and support that she’ll be able to navigate those transitions in a way that I never could have imagined.”

Akilah Johnson can be reached at akilah.johnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.
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