TAMPA — Joe Velez is 9 years old, enjoys sports — especially football — as well as school, has plenty of friends and has a smile that melts your heart.
He is also a diabetic, and, while he smiles every time he sees a cake or a candy bar, he knows an injection isn’t very far away. The injections have become routine — in January, Joe was diagnosed as a Type-1 diabetic.
Type-1 diabetics cannot produce insulin. As of now, there is no cure.
Joe has to take multiple insulin injections throughout the day and has to have his fingers pricked about six times a day to measure his blood glucose levels.
So how does his dog and best friend, Nagra, a 2-year old black Labrador, fit in? She has the ability to tell when Joe might be coming close to a possible diabetic seizure.
“If Joe is struggling, Nagra can tell,” said Joe’s mother, Hildamarie Velez. “She can tell if he might go into seizures or even into a coma. It’s that serious.”
Joe, his mother said, tries to live a normal life. He attends Twin Lakes Elementary and has plenty of friends, but he can’t always participate in activities with them.
“It’s a part of his life and he knows it but it breaks my heart,” Hildamarie said. “He knows he has to take those needles and the pricks in his fingers because he has no choice. He understands.”
Hildamarie said the worst part is when Joe goes to events like birthday parties. Like any kid, he wants that birthday cake. He can have some, of course, as long as he gives himself that injection.
She said he is used to it. It doesn’t even hurt anymore.
Joe wants to be a football player. He is a player for the Carrollwood Cardinals youth football team and wants to live a normal life. That’s where Nagra comes in.
The direct cost of buying a diabetic service dog can run as much as $50,000. The cost to train Nagra to take care of Joe can go as high as $10,000. Hildamarie said she is trying to raise $8,000 to further train Nagra. The cost covers vet training and transportation costs. Nagra is 2-years-old and has already formed a bond with Joe.
Hildamarie said the task of raising $8,000 is tough, so the family is hoping the community can help.
“It breaks my heart to see him having to give himself a needle,” she said. “He’s used to it and there’s no cure, but if we can train Nagra, that would be such a help. He’s a special kid.”
To help, contact Hilda- marie Velez at (813) 562-6891.