How much do you know about diabetes? You might know that it's a condition that happens when a person's body can't control the amount of sugar (or glucose) in the blood. You also might know that people with diabetes have to pay attention to what they eat and get shots to help them stay healthy. But what's it like to live with diabetes every day? Just ask Chandler!
Chandler is 11 years old now, but he found out he had diabetes a few days after his fourth birthday. He's been living with diabetes for more than half his life already!
But diabetes doesn't stop him from doing all the things he likes. Even though he has to get shots and be aware of what he eats, he's still a very active guy. He loves to play baseball, skateboard, ride his bike, play video games, read, fish, swim, and collect Yu-Gi-Oh cards and baseball cards. He also likes watching all kinds of sports.
Some kids may have heard about diabetes but have never met someone with it. So we asked Chandler: "What do kids who don't have diabetes need to know about it?" He said kids need to know that "you can't catch it and it isn't contagious." He also said that kids should learn about diabetes "so you can help a diabetic person if they're in trouble."
Finding Out About Diabetes
So how did Chandler find out he had diabetes? It all started right before his 4-year checkup. His mom and dad noticed that he was drinking a whole lot and always having to go to the bathroom. He would wake up very thirsty and have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
At the checkup, his mom told Chandler's doctor about what was going on. The doctor asked Chandler to do a urine (pee) test. When the results came back, the doctor told Chandler that he needed to go to the hospital because he probably had diabetes.
At the hospital, the doctors did some tests and then told Chandler he had type 1 diabetes. When someone has type 1 diabetes, it means his or her body has stopped making enough insulin. Insulin is needed to help glucose get from the blood into the cells. So, since glucose can't get into the cells on its own, the amount of glucose in the blood (also called blood sugar) can get very high and cause health problems.
To fix this, a person with type 1 diabetes like Chandler has to get insulin through shots or an insulin pump. Chandler and other people with type 1 diabetes also have to test their blood sugar levels several times a day.
Chandler says, "I get my blood checked and a needle (an insulin shot) at breakfast, lunch, and dinner and whenever I want a snack and before I go to bed."
Chandler has already received more than 5,000 insulin shots since he was first diagnosed. Even though he gets all those shots, he's still not really used to them. Sometimes his mom and dad have to convince him to get poked with a needle. It's definitely not fun, but Chandler knows he has to get his shots to stay healthy.
Besides testing his blood sugar level and getting shots, a regular day for Chandler is a lot like every other kid's. The only big difference is that he always has to pay close attention to his diabetes. That means he always has to be prepared. He says, "When I'm not at school, I have to make sure I always have my diabetes bag with me and tell someone if I feel low." (Sometimes blood sugar levels can drop down too low in people with diabetes. If someone with diabetes starts to feel low, they might have a lot of different symptoms, including getting a headache or feeling drowsy, weak, dizzy, or shaky.)
A diabetes bag usually has everything someone with diabetes might need in case of an emergency. It's normally packed with insulin and needles, a blood glucose meter and test strips, and something sugary to eat in case blood sugar levels drop really low. Chandler takes his diabetes bag along when he's away from his parents or school, like over at a friend's house or on a field trip.
At school, Chandler does his classwork just like everyone else, but when it's lunchtime he goes to the school nurse's office to get his blood sugar tested. When it's time to eat, the cafeteria staff helps him pick out the best lunch choice. Then, after he's finished eating, he goes back to the school nurse's office for his insulin shot.
Everyone thinks the school nurse is really cool. There are about five kids at Chandler's school who have diabetes, and the school nurse helps all of them pay attention to their blood sugar and gives them their insulin shots. She has even set up a club called "Sugar Busters" where they all get to hang out with each other after school one day a week!
Not only does Chandler get to hang out with other kids with diabetes at school, he's been going to camps sponsored by the American Diabetes Association since he was 4. The camps are held twice a year for kids with diabetes and their families, and they're a great chance for kids and families to hang out with each other. Chandler says, "They're a lot of fun! Especially because I can skate and swim, and also because I make new friends."
Chandler and his family do a lot to help find a cure and teach people about diabetes. They take part in most of the walks sponsored by the American Diabetes Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). Chandler says, "Me and my family raise money for the diabetes walks every year and we were the top fundraising family for our team for the JDRF walk in September (2005)." Chandler and his family even got a Golden Sneaker Award for raising so much money for diabetes awareness.
And if that's not enough, Chandler has also helped collect donations from friends and family, and has raised money by selling diabetes bracelets!
Living With Diabetes
Like Chandler, people with diabetes have to be more careful about their health and pay much more attention to what they're eating than most people. They also have to check their blood sugar levels a lot and get insulin shots. It's a lot of responsibility and the needles sure aren't fun, but Chandler still has a good time like every other kid.
If you ask Chandler what advice he has to give to other kids with diabetes, he says, "Don't be afraid to try new things. You can still have fun and do things you want to do. You just get used to it."