Cranberry family grateful to organization providing specially trained dog

| Saturday, March 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Michael and Michelle Giovengo had planned to raise money on their own to pay for a dog to sniff out when their daughter, Crystal, is about to suffer severe medical problems because her blood sugar has plunged to dangerously low levels.

But the Cranberry family will benefit from the generosity of the Cranberry Community Uniting People organization, which will pay $16,000 for a specially trained dog that will join the Giovengos in October.

“Words cannot express the emotions that I'm feeling,” said Michelle Giovengo, 29, a hairdresser. “They're helping us out, and this can save our daughter's life. There's no price on a life, so what do you say to that?”

Her husband, 33, is a computer engineer at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.Crystal, 6, a first-grader at Haine Elementary School, has a multitude of conditions, including one in which her blood sugar levels take unexpected dives.

The little girl's body doesn't alert her to the impending trouble, and she can suddenly fall into a diabetic shock and suffer seizures that take a couple of days from which to recover.

The attacks can lead to coma, organ damage and other problems, Michelle Giovengo said. Crystal has the attacks every two to four months, and they involve hospital stays.

The diabetic assistance dog will smell a chemical change on Crystal's breath and body, and be able to alert her family between 15 and 60 minutes before her blood sugar drops to a critical low. The sooner Crystal can be treated, her mother said, the less recovery time she'll need.

The dog, which Crystal has already named “Rosy,” is a light yellow Labrador that Drey's Alert Dogs in Jasper, Texas, will train over the next few months. That training includes the Giovengos sending samples of Crystal's blood on swatches so that the dog will be familiar with Crystal's high and low blood sugars.

Crystal also has delayed motor and developmental skills that means she has trouble opening doors, can't walk far in her neighborhood and can't ride a bike. Despite that, her mother said, she remains upbeat.

“She's very fun-loving and has a great imagination,” Michelle Giovengo said. “She doesn't let anything bother her. Even through the testing, she'll say, ‘It's OK,' or she comforts us and worries about comforting other people. She's very concerned about what other people feel.”

As part of the CUP help, Guardian Protection Services will donate a medical alert system for two years.

“We want to help her try to live the fullest life she can possibly live,” said Chris Kale Corcoran, a CUP board member.

Cranberry CUP each year sponsors a softball tournament, golf outing and other events to benefit charitable activities, raising about $140,000 a year. The group donated last year to the Kids Castle playground in Cranberry's community park off Route 19.

The group also names an inspirational family each year, one that needs financial and other support. Last year's recipient, Kim Long, is undergoing chemotherapy for a recurrence of cancer.

“These people are so grateful and they always pay it forward,” said Cranberry CUP founder Cathy Cortazzo. “It's very, very humbling and gratifying to see the good in people.”

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621.

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