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Diabetes: A lot for one little girl to understand

December 22, 2008

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

DASSEL, MN - Christmas for Hannah Emery and her family will be quite different from last year. In fact, now that Hannah was recently diagnosed with Type I diabetes, life for her from now on has forever been changed.

Seven-year-old Hannah is a first grader at Dassel Elementary. Her parents, Steve and Sheri Emery of Dassel, noticed Hannah was acting a little different – she was more tired, more hungry, and thirsty all of the time.

So on the morning of Dec. 3, Hannah was getting ready for school, had breakfast, and fell asleep on the couch.

Since Sheri thought she may be coming down with something, she let her sleep awhile and took her to school later that morning.

Hannah was only in school for a few hours when she got sick.

Sheri and Steve decided, just to be safe, they would take Hannah to see their family doctor in Hutchinson.

After some blood and urine tests, the results showed Hannah’s blood sugar was 560 – normal is between 80 and 120 – and there were ketones (a by-product) indicating her body was using stored fat as energy rather than sugar.

Since the Children’s Hospital specializes in children and teens with Type I diabetes, Hannah was then referred there.

According to the American Diabetes Association, Type I diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults and therefore was previously known as juvenile diabetes.

In Type I diabetes, the body does not produce insulin, a hormone that is necessary for the body to convert such foods as sugar (glucose) and carbohydrates into energy.

Because the pancreas no longer makes insulin to regulate the blood glucose level, people with Type I diabetes are insulin-dependent and need either regular insulin shots before meals or a pump that automatically regulates the blood sugar levels throughout the day.

Now, before each meal, Hannah’s blood sugar levels need to be tested through much-dreaded finger pricks.

Then, the number of carbohydrates in her meal or snack need to be calculated and Hannah is administered the necessary dosage of insulin to compensate.

At first, this was very stressful for everyone involved, Sheri explained. But now, after only a few short weeks, Hannah and her parents are already getting used to it.

In the first week, Hannah would want a snack like ice cream, for example, but quickly changed her mind after finding out she would need to take a shot of insulin.

Now, Hannah wants ice cream whether or not that means getting insulin.

No one usually enjoys getting shots, especially children and this was also the case with young Hannah. To be supportive, the family tries not to use the word “shot” and instead just says “insulin.”

“It’s a scary thing for her to understand all of this, but she is learning,” Sheri said.

Knowing how difficult it was for the parents to give her insulin at first, Sheri prepared herself by taking a few weeks off from her part-time job to help the school nurse out.

Sheri was quickly assured that Hannah didn’t put up much of a fight with her assistant school nurse, Barb Holly.

“She did good and has been ever since,” Sheri said.

Making a life change

In just a day, Hannah’s life has been dramatically changed.

“I think she thought, at first, it would go away,” Sheri said.

“She is going to have to do this for the rest of her life,” Steve added.

Hannah has to watch everything she eats and count the number of carbohydrates.

Hannah is already checking all the nutrition labels on foods, Sheri said.

She also has to take her pink camouflage insulin pack with her everywhere she goes which includes fruit snacks if her blood sugar gets too low as well as the insulin and tester.

Also, Hannah needs to monitor her blood sugar levels before meals, snacks, gym class, and bedtime.

Sleepovers also will have to be on hold for awhile, at least until friends and their parents are educated about the disease and Hannah is more comfortable with it.

At first, the whole idea was very overwhelming, not only for Hannah, but for the family.

“We’re starting to get the hang of it,” Steve said.

“We have placed all of our trust in God to give us the strength we need to handle it all, and have appreciated all the kind words, support, and prayers from family and friends,” Sheri said.

“Hannah is doing well, despite all of this, and I came to realize that there are so many kids out there who can’t leave the hospital, who are struggling to survive, and how blessed we are to have our little girl home with us. She’s happy and can live her life to the fullest, despite some small changes,” she added.

When Hannah was diagnosed, the family didn’t realize just how common this disease is.

Currently, there are nine students in the Dassel-Cokato School District that have been diagnosed with Type I diabetes, according to Kelly O’Fallon, district school nurse.

To help Hannah’s class understand what she has been going through and why she needed to be hospitalized, they read the book, “Taking Diabetes to School.”

Long-term complications

Type I is not without possible serious complications. Having Type I increases a person’s chances of heart disease, blindness, nerve damage, and kidney damage.

These long-term complications are what worry Steve and Sheri the most, as well as what could happen short-term if Hannah’s blood sugar gets either too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia).

According to the American Diabetes Association, some of the symptoms with hyperglycemia are shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, very dry mouth, and breath that smells fruity. Some of the symptoms for hypoglycemia can include shakiness, dizziness, sweating, hunger, headache, pale skin, sudden moodiness or behavior changes, clumsy or jerky movements, seizure, difficulty paying attention or confusion, or tingling sensations around the mouth.

Resources available

The Emery family will be taking classes for the next six months at the Children’s Hospital to learn more about living with diabetes.

There are support groups through the Children’s Hospital, but as for local support groups, O’Fallon is unaware of any.

Most of the support students receive are individualized, but she would like to see a support group closer to home that would help young people cope, O’Fallon said.

“They need to hear other stories to realize it is manageable and they can lead normal lives even with this disease,” O’Fallon said.

The American Diabetes Association, www.diabetes.org, gives helpful information about the two types of diabetes and also recommends the book, “A Field Guide to Type 1 Diabetes,” written by The American Diabetes Association.


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