A woman who suffers from a sleeping disorder claims her African grey parrot has been a lifesaver after learning to read the signs of her illness.
Barbara Smith-Schafer, 62, from Skegness, Lincolnshire, says the bird, called Dominic, frantically flaps his wings and gnaws at her shoulder if he notices a dangerous pause in her breathing. He is one of seven birds kept by her husband Bernhard.
Mrs Smith-Schafer was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) in 2009. The illness causes a person's airway to collapse during sleep, obstructing breathing and often causing the person to snore loudly.
It puts a strain on the heart and can lead to a number of serious health conditions, including stroke and dementia. Sleep apnoea is characterised by loud and heavy snoring, which Mrs Smith-Schafer says alerted Dominic to the problem.
Dominic, who can also speak a few words of German because Bernhard grew up in Germany, learned to imitate her snoring and whenever he notices a pause in her breathing he wakes her up.
Mrs Smith-Schafer said: "At first I was quite annoyed at Dominic, embarrassed that he would mimic my snoring. But since my OSA began to get worse, and he's learnt to wake me up when I fall asleep in a dangerous position, or when I've stopped breathing, he's really become my knight in shining armour."
Since developing the condition, Mrs Smith-Schafer has suffered from extreme tiredness and exhaustion, due to a lack of good quality sleep. She was diagnosed in 2009 after suffering from severe nocturnal incontinence along with heavy snoring and fatigue.
Mrs Smith-Schafer said: "I'd wake up in the mornings, stand up, and my bladder would immediately empty. There was nothing I could do to stop it. At first, my doctor was suggesting treatments like botox to help me control my bladder. It wasn't until someone clicked and referred me to a specialist sleep clinic for testing, that I learnt it was a result of my OSA, which they were able to diagnose."
Mr Michael Oko, consultant ENT surgeon and sleep apnoea specialist at the Pilgrim Hospital in Boston, Lincolnshire, said: "Fortunately, for those of us without the helping hand of a uniquely talented parrot, there are some highly effective treatments, including lifestyle and behaviour changes, CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) therapy, mandibular advancement devices and surgery."
Mrs Smith-Schafer has now been prescribed a Philips CPAP machine, which provides a gentle flow of air pressure through her nose using a mask.