In September 2021, Jenna-Mae van der Vyver, an ‘exceptionally smart and compassionate’ 2-year-old girl from Krugersdorp, Johannesburg, was diagnosed with Diabetes Type 1, an auto-immune condition, which typically appears during adolescence.

As Type 1 diabetes is not lifestyle or diet-related, being insulin-dependent will be a lifelong struggle for Jenna-Mae.

While in the ‘honeymoon phase’ as doctors coin it, Jenna-Mae’s insulin levels are erratic and hard to predict, resulting in many sleepless nights for her parents, Cherise (38) and Johan (47), who are worried that one day she might not make it through the night.

“Nothing is as scary as sleeping at night, hoping & praying she won’t go low, fall into a coma, and you won’t hear your alarm for her nightly midnight, 2 am and 4 am checks. Or, when you drive back from the shops (just 5 minutes) and you reach home to an unresponsive, unreactive child in the back seat… even though you checked her insulin levels 5 minutes ago… you shake her, scream at her to wake up and try to shove something sugary in her mouth without choking her… not cool mense, not cool.” – says Cherise

Jenna-Mae, with her mom Cherise and dad Johan.

Jenna-Mae handles her condition with understanding and bravery, taking pokes and pricks and injections with a determined attitude, and generally without complaint, according to her mum.

“When her insulin levels are high she is overly busy and unfocused but understands that she is unable to eat sugar or carbs as it will make her feel sick. When she is low she can be very tearful, emotional, tired, and clingy, but she will often tell us to grab her a Super C to bring her levels up” says Cherise

Jenna-Mae playing dress-up / Cherise Brady Photography


Found: A dog to join the pack

As Jenna-Mae is so little, and can’t always communicate to her parents how she is feeling, her parents found the perfect solution, in the form of a Diabetic Alert Dog.

Incredibly, Diabetic Alert Dogs can detect high or low insulin levels, using their keen sense of smell, up to 20 minutes before devices can.

To purchase a ‘paramedic pup’ and cover his/her food and medical needs over the next 12 months while in training, the van der Vyver family launched a crowdfunding campaign on Backabuddy, which exceeded its target by reaching over R65 000 kind donations from 67 donors.


Update: Puppy Training has kicked off

Thefunds raised have been paid directly to Honey’s Guide Dogs, a non-profit organisation based in Cape Town which does a phenomenal job of selecting, training, and matching these incredible canines with their ‘forever companions’.

Jenna-Mae is incredibly excited to meet her furry friend, who will forever watch out for her, accompany her to school, and wherever her heart takes her.

There was initially three lovely sighthounds (greyhound) pups up for consideration, but we are happy to say it looks like Jenna-Mae will be getting a gorgeous young female pup named Isla. Isla is ALSO a rescue from Sighthound Rescue and Lucy from Honey’s Garden always tries her best to save dogs that would otherwise not have a home. Double win!!


Isla is a very cuddly dog with a gentle nature but is also a very active and playful pup. Isla is in a wonderful foster home now busy with training and has already completed a very successful puppy training year. Our very smart puppy has now started full-time “hero training” to be a qualified service dog.


Part of the process will also be sending down frozen saliva samples from Jenna-Mae so that Isla can get used to the scent of Jenna-Mae’s “highs” & “lows”. We are getting there people! It is becoming so real! Thanks again to each and every single person. We are so thankful, more than words will ever express!

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If the fundraising campaign exceeds its target, the family will use additional funds raised to purchase Freestyle Libre sensor devices, which will be able to read Jenna-Mae’s sugar levels more accurately and less painfully. These devices cost R1000 and last up to 14 days.

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South Africa’s leading crowdfunding platform, BackaBuddy has supported more than 10 000+ individuals and charities in setting up fundraising campaigns for medical fees, tuition and various causes in South Africa. The platform has thus far risen over R330 Million.