By Jen Bakken
DELANO, MN Many children are excited when it’s lunch time at school. They may be looking forward to a yummy slice of pizza or a chocolate chip cookie.
For 8-year-old Hunter Roberts, of Delano, lunch time is different.
With Type 1 Diabetes, it means a visit to “Nurse Mary,” who checks his blood sugar, planning out what he will eat, counting carbohydrates, and giving him shot of insulin.
In November 2007, Hunter had missed a couple days of second grade because of not feeling well, but initially, his doctor thought he just had a virus.
After a couple days, intuition kicked in for his mother, Kelly Roberts, and she was no longer convinced this was a virus.
“I took him to the emergency room,” remembered Kelly, “and it seemed like minutes later a doctor was telling me Hunter was diabetic. I was in shock and thought the doctor was in the wrong room.”
Immediately, the young boy was transported by ambulance to Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, where he spent a couple days in a diabetic coma.
When his dark brown eyes finally opened, his first words were, “I’m hungry.”
While Kelly learned how to poke her son’s finger, he was a trooper. Though she’d occasionally miss and have to poke his finger again, he would just roll his eyes with a smirk.
Once home, Hunter’s blood sugar level had to be checked every three hours, and it took some time for Kelly to become comfortable with this, along with the monitor and necessary supplies.
Counting carbohydrates has entered their world like being in a constant math class. Hunter needs one unit of insulin for every 12 grams of carbohydrates he eats. If he has 100 carbohydrates, they are then divided by 12 to find the correct units of insulin to be injected.
“At 7:30 every morning, I give him a shot of long lasting insulin,” Kelly said. “We check his blood sugar every three hours, but only wake him up at night if he’s been really high or low. He needs shots with every meal, but meat and cheese he can have anytime without needing a shot.”
Hunter has become very good about reading nutrition labels, figuring out how many carbohydrates are in foods and dividing. He is also handy with a calculator now.
He will quickly point out what part he dislikes the most, “I hate checking my blood sugar, “ he said. “It’s done more and it even hurts more than the shots.”
There are many things that have changed one wouldn’t normally think of. The family has to buy sugar-free maple syrup, when he gets sick or has a cold it can complicate everything by raising his blood sugar level, and even going to birthday parties or sleep overs presents challenges.
“I can only have a root beer float if the place has diet root beer,” said Hunter, who loves root beer floats. “But, I get to have sugar-free popsicles and they don’t taste any different.”
It can be impossible to convince Hunter to eat vegetables and sometimes, he will avoid enough carbohydrates to allow him to eat a cookie instead.
A simple trip through a drive-thru for fast food can be tricky. There’s been times they have calculated his carbohydrates and given him a certain amount of insulin only to have their order wrong. This forces them to calculate things all over again.
Everything, every day involves planning, but Hunter loves to be a typical 8-year- old boy, skateboarding, playing video games, swimming, or doing anything a huge Star Wars fan may do.
At Delano Elementary School, nurse Mary Zelko believes the biggest part of her job with children like Hunter is to educate them so they can become more independent.
“This will be for the rest of their lives,” she said.
According to Jane Larter, District 879 nurse, not all schools have a registered nurse in each building like Delano Schools do. Currently, there are 12 students with diabetes attending Delano Schools three in the elementary, five in the middle school, and four in the high school.
“It’s important to have skilled registered nurses caring for these students,” said Larter. “The students require a nurse to go with them on field trips, to monitor their blood sugar levels, carbohydrates, activity levels, and give them insulin.”
As a mother of a child with diabetes, Kelly is grateful for all Zelko does for her son and Hunter agrees.
“Nurse Mary makes it fun,” said Hunter. “If I eat all of my lunch, she will dance, sing, or whatever I tell her to do it’s so funny!”
Zelko admits she has danced on top of things and even sang Christmas carols out in the hallway in front of everyone.
“This was Joan Kottke’s (paraprofessional who works in the lunch room) idea and if it helps encourage him in a fun way,” said Zelko, “I can handle making myself look silly.”
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s (JDRF), web site, www. jdrf.org, states that Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys certain cells in the pancreas.
These cells are contained, along with other types of cells, within small islands of endocrine cells called the pancreatic islets. Beta cells normally produce a hormone that helps the body move the glucose contained in food into cells throughout the body, which use it for energy, according to the foundation.
When the beta cells are destroyed, no insulin can be produced, and the glucose stays in the blood instead, where it can cause serious damage to all the organ systems of the body.
The warning signs of Type 1 diabetes include extreme thirst, frequent urination, drowsiness or lethargy, sugar in the urine, sudden vision changes, increased appetite, sudden weight loss, fruity, sweet, or wine-like breath odor, and hyperglycemic (high blood sugar) reactions, which can be life threatening, according to the foundation.
The Roberts family has lived in Delano since 1990. Kelly has three other children Troy Jr., 23, Jerry, 19, and Laura, 15.
As a single mother, working full time as a legal assistant for Emmer Law firm and attending college classes, Kelly definitely has a full plate. Hunter’s father, Troy Roberts Sr., is as supportive as possible since he is an over-the-road truck driver traveling much of the time.
“The hardest thing for me,” admitted Kelly, “is watching him have to do all this stuff. You can never take a break from it, it’s always there. It affects everything diabetes is forever.”