Niagara Gazette

January 16, 2014

DELUCA: Pup can help Jack

Michele DeLuca Commentary
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — This is a story about a boy and a dog.  

Jack Schroeder was only 8 months old when his mom, Nicole, began to get the feeling that something was terribly wrong. Although his hearing seemed fine, he wouldn’t look when she called his name.  

After a round of doctors visits, the diagnosis came back. Jack, a beautiful little baby with big, dark eyes, had autism. It was such a simple diagnosis with such earth-shattering consequences. 

Over the past 10 years Jack’s parents’ lives have been devoted to caring for Jack in their tidy two-story Ransomville home. They don’t get out much because Jack’s behavior is unusual. He doesn’t speak. He doesn’t respond to social expectations. And sometimes kids at the playground say hurtful things that Jack may not understand, but his mother does. It hurts Nicole when she hears parents tell their children “Just stay away from him.” 

At home, he is always within her sight, or with his dad, Michael, a teacher at Oracle Charter School in Buffalo. Mom, a part-time nurse, is the researcher and advocate. Dad is the buddy.

Their household schedule so rigorous and Jack’s challenges so encompassing, that the Michael and Nicole debated long and hard about bringing another child into the world who might have autism. Blessed optimism ruled and their second child was born 10 months ago, perfectly healthy and not showing — thus far — any signs of the illness. Jack’s new brother is named Bobby, a tribute to father Michael’s love of history and the story of two other brothers.  

I drove out to their house the other day to meet Jack and his mom. He had just gotten off the school bus, and was enjoying the swing that hangs from a beam between the kitchen and the small living room.

A slender, loving 10-year-old with short dark hair and soulful eyes, he was cautious of me at first, but warmed up when I started singing the only kid’s song I think of, “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.”  

While he snacked and watched his favorite cartoon on a kid’s tablet, Nicole told me about Lucy.

The challenges Jack and his family have been facing were amped up considerably last summer, when Jack was diagnosed with Type 1 juvenile diabetes.

Nicole remembers sobbing in the hospital when she heard the news. Who wouldn’t be tempted at that point to look skyward and shout, “Are you kidding me? Leave my kid alone!” But, peace with destiny has been made, Nicole says. “The last eight months we have been relying on something else to help us get through this,” she told me, pointing up toward where many imagine divinity to be.

These days, every bite of food Jack takes has to be monitored. He gets insulin shots many times a day to balance his blood sugar. The night before, his parents were up for hours watching Jack as he slept, because his blood sugar was too low, and that’s a situation Nicole says can kill children as they sleep.  

Because Jack cannot speak he will never be able to let them know when he’s feeling dangerous symptoms of his diabetes. But there is someone who can help. Her name is Lucy.

Lucy is a diabetic alert dog. She’s a 3-month-old yellow lab puppy who is already in training in Texas, sniffing the samples of Jack’s saliva as she learns the difference between high and low insulin levels. Lucy could save Jack’s life one day. But, she is very expensive. The family needs to come up with $18,000 by July. And they are already taxed by the extra costs of caring for Jack.

The beautiful thing is that all kinds of people are coming out of the woodwork to help. There’s a comedy show and raffle planned for April 6. Recently, Niagara Falls Police Deputy Superintendent Kelly Rizzo, whose wife works with Michael, auctioned off two pairs of his season tickets for the Buffalo Sabres. In the social media commotion created by the auction, the police department’s hockey team has declared Jack’s dog as its fundraising goal when they play the fire department in the annual charity game this spring. 

Rizzo told me he’s pretty happy the community gets to see the kindness of his department in this effort. “There’s a lot of really good people with a lot of really big hearts around here,” he said of his officers.

A web designer from Cincinnati, Julie Ladd, heard about the cause on Facebook and joined efforts by a webpage designer Corey James in Minnesota to set up a website, Twitter and Facebook page (www.adogforjack), where people can learn more and donate to help pay for Lucy. Donations are also being taken at any First Niagara bank. About $8,000 more is needed by July.

Jack’s mom doesn’t want anyone to pity them, because she and Michael feel twice gifted by their sons. Nicole is digitally searching the world for someone with the same rare double diagnosis as Jack. But in the meantime, they are beyond grateful for the small army now working to help their little boy.

Not every one of us has extra to share. But if you do, and you’re looking to add a bit of brightness to the world today, perhaps you can visit www.adogforjack — and help get Lucy on the job.