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Boy meets goal to get service dog

Pictured is six-year-old Ian Unger and his sister Alexia. Courtesy photo.

By Judy Reed

A six-year-old boy with type one diabetes who decided to sell pumpkins to raise money to get a service dog exceeded his goal after his story went viral last weekend.

Ian Unger, 6, is the son of Jeff Unger and Katrina Christensen, of Pierson, and a kindergartner at McNaughton Elementary in Howard City. A week before he turned four, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. 

Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone needed to allow sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy. The cause is unknown, but usually, the body’s own immune system mistakenly destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

There is no cure, and treatment focuses on managing blood sugar levels with insulin, diet and lifestyle to prevent complications. Ian has an insulin pump and a Dexcom CGM, which reads his blood glucose 24 hours a day. 

Like most kids his age, he wants to ride the bus to school with his friends, but would need an aide to ride with him, and there isn’t one available. So Ian decided that he would begin to raise money to get a service dog to ride with him. A service dog will be able to alert him when his blood sugar is too high or too low; but unfortunately, a service dog is not covered by insurance, and the cost could be $20,000 or more.

After doing some brainstorming, he decided to start by selling pumpkins. So he planted the pumpkins, raised them, and then sold them on the side of the road. 

Last Friday, October 12, his story began to hit the airwaves, and people began coming from all around to buy Ian’s pumpkins. He even ran out—and had to get more. “Ian would like to thank Tony Hawley for his donation of a whole truckload of pumpkins, and Jamie Bucholtz for his donation as well,” said his dad. 

Between the sale of pumpkins and a facebook fundraiser for those who couldn’t get there to buy pumpkins, Ian has exceeded his $20,000 goal and has now ordered his service alert dog. It will be at least a year before it’s trained. Any funding in excess of what’s needed will be donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).

People are still coming to buy pumpkins from Ian, and the family has had phone calls both from local and national media outlets—even from Good Morning, America.

“I couldn’t be prouder of my son,” said his dad. “This all happened because of him.”

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