● By Wendy Sipple
Before last March, 12-year-old Daphne Green had vaguely heard about an organ in her body called the pancreas, but really didn’t know much about its function.
Now the El Dorado Hills seventh grader thinks about it every day. Daphne, like an estimated three million other Americans with type 1 diabetes, undergoes daily injections of insulin because her pancreas has stopped producing the hormone vitally needed to convert glucose into energy.
Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, is often diagnosed in childhood or early adulthood, but can be discovered at any age. Without a cure, it’s a lifelong disease. And because doctors still don’t know what causes diabetes, there is no way to prevent it. However with daily, and often hour-to-hour management, the effects of diabetes can be controlled to allow children to lead a relatively normal life.
Warning Signs and Symptoms
Given that people with type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day to stay alive, accurate identification of the disease is essential. In the few weeks prior to her daughter’s diagnosis, Cindy Green noticed distinct tell-tale signs. “She was drinking constantly, going to the bathroom constantly and she had lost 10 pounds,” she says, adding that she didn’t initially notice the weight loss due to baggy wintertime attire. Fortunately, mother’s intuition prevailed and Daphne’s diabetes was caught early.
According to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (jdrf.org), additional warning signs include flu-like symptoms; drowsiness or lethargy; sudden vision changes; increased appetite; fruity, sweet, or wine-like odor on breath; heavy, labored breathing; stupor and unconsciousness.
Left undiagnosed and untreated, diabetes can lead to dangerous complications that include heart and kidney disease, nerve damage and even death.
New Treatments and Products
Although currently there is no cure for diabetes, research into the cause and triggers of the disease continues. In the meantime, ongoing advancement in the technologies available for continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) and automatic insulin pumps promises easier management for diabetic patients. Today’s newer model insulin pumps are the size of a small patch, and some feature programmable alerts and built-in dosage calculators.
The most exciting news focuses on efforts toward creation of an artificial pancreas. The system would automatically monitor blood sugar levels and deliver the correct amount of insulin whenever needed, a breakthrough doctors hope will “close the loop” in diabetes care.
Living with Diabetes
For Daphne, her diagnosis has meant an entirely new lifestyle. “I had heard about diabetes through Nick Jonas, but I didn’t know what it was,” she says. In 2007, the pop superstar went public with his own type 1 diabetes diagnosis and pushed for greater awareness. These days, Daphne takes it all in stride. At least four times a day, the brave pre-teen pricks her finger to test blood sugar levels – even while at school – and receives insulin injections into her stomach after every meal and right before bed.
“At first the shots were a little scary,” she says quietly. “But they’ve gotten easier.” The Greens hope an automatic insulin pump will soon replace the daily injections. Daphne just wants to make sure the pump is colorful. Mom Cindy reports the family’s meal schedule is now much more routine, and there’s no skipping meals or snacks. “Grocery shopping takes forever because we have to look at the back of every box and package label for the amount of carbohydrates,” she says.
Daphne stays active on a competitive cheer team. In addition to a medical alert bracelet, she wears several colorful support wristbands and is excited to be walking in an upcoming event at the State Capitol to help find a cure for diabetes.
“Diabetes is a life threatening disease and a life changing diagnosis – it’s forever,” says Cindy. “But it does get easier. We just try and live a normal life. Diabetes is definitely not slowing Daphne down.”
GET INVOLVED & INFORMED
Sacramento Walk to Cure Diabetes
October 4 – Starting at the State Capitol on the West Steps, register at 8 a.m. and the 5K walk begins at 9 a.m. Have a group? Form a corporate, family or school team. For more information, call 916-920-0790.
Taking Control of Your Diabetes (TCOYD) Conference
October 10 – This non-profit diabetes education organization will host a conference, lunch and health fair from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Santa Clara Convention Center, featuring national and local medical experts offering informative and motivational programs in diabetes care for people with all types of diabetes, those at risk for diabetes, and their loved ones. To register or get more information, call 800-998-2693 or visit tcoyd.org.