Type 1 diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes, affects as many as three million Americans every year. Approximately 85% of those affected are adults and 15% are children. For those of you not familiar with diabetes (also called diabetes mellitus), it is a chronic illness in which the body has difficulty regulating blood glucose levels in the body. There are two types: Type 1 diabetes, which is a disorder of the body's autoimmune system. There is a lack of insulin due to the breakdown of islet cells in the pancreas. In contrast, Type 2 diabetes, also known as non-insulin dependent diabetes, is a metabolic disorder in which there is insulin resistance.
In Type 1 diabetes, the affected individual must take insulin to stay alive. This means that they frequently monitor their blood sugars throughout the day and give themselves regular doses of insulin, either via an injection with a syringe or via an insulin pump. They must carefully balance their food intake and exercise to regulate their blood sugar levels so that their level does not fall too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia). The consequences of going to either extreme can be severe and life threatening. The long-term complications of the illness can follow a person throughout their lifespan.
I do not have diabetes, but my experience in working as a nurse with diabetics has been extensive throughout my nursing career. My previous job was as a pediatric nurse on an acute inpatient unit and we frequently had children with Type 1 (and even Type 2) diabetes on our unit. They were either newly diagnosed or had encountered a complication with their diabetes that required hospitalization and stabilization.
However, it wasn't until I started working as a school nurse this past Spring that I even began to comprehend the impact of Type 1 diabetes on the daily life of a child. In the school system that I work in, there are five children with diabetes ranging from elementary age to high school age. One of them does self injections and the other four wear insulin pumps to help regulate their blood sugars. As nurse who worked previously in an acute care setting, we only saw a brief snapshot of what it was like to be these kids every day. We got them better and sent them home. However in a school setting, you have an opportunity to see the complexity of managing a child's blood sugars, diet, and activities. It's a fine balancing act between keeping them healthy, while still allowing them to be a child.
The slightest event can throw off a child's blood sugars and precipitate a bigger issue. A larger than usual portion of a particular food at lunch, more playing at recess, the beginning of cold symptoms, the list goes on and on. That's why these kids check their blood sugar a MINIMUM of six times a day...and that does not include the insulin doses that must be given. Can you imagine being a child and having to deal with that kind of medical regime??
But, they do. And I will tell you, most of them do it very well. Children are remarkable and I will admit that I am in awe of how my elementary and middle-school age kids deal with their illness. They could teach the adults in this world a thing or two about acceptance, not complaining, and enjoying life, despite the obstacles that are placed in front of them.
With every child that has Type 1 diabetes comes parents, siblings, relatives and friends that also are affected by diabetes. This is not an individual illness, but rather one that the whole family must learn to adapt to and live successfully with.
It came to my attention recently that one of my students with Type I diabetes, Gabbie, is participating with her family in the JDRF's Walk to Cure Diabetes. Gabbie is a bright, beautiful, and spunky third-grader who is fighting, along with her family, to held end Type 1 diabetes. She is a daughter, a sister, a friend, and from what I hear, a budding gymnast. She does not let her illness get her in the way of living her life to the fullest.
The JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) is the leading global organization funding Type 1 diabetes research. At this point in time, there is no cure for Type 1 diabetes. The JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes is their flagship fundraising event. There are 200 walks held nationwide and similar to other non-profit events of this nature, you can raise money and then walk either an an individual or as a team. Gabbie and her family will be walking Sunday, October 19, 2014 at the JDRF event being held at Six Flags New England in Agawam, Massachusetts. Registration begins at 8:30 am and the walk begins at 10:00am. The walk distance is 1.5 miles and you can get more information about the event by contacting Joseph DiMaggio at the Greater Connecticut/Western Mass. Chapter at (203) 248-1880.
To date, Team Gabrielle has achieved 84% of their fundraising goal, which is $3,000.00. You can donate to Team Gabrielle bu clicking this link: Team Gabrielle. No amount is too small and every dollar donated makes a difference. Please consider helping Gabbie and her family make a difference in the lives of so many affected by this illness.