Love and Life

pancreas heartWhile the kids eat dinner I sort through the pile of papers they bring home from preschool each day. Sheet after sheet of drawings, letters, numbers…indicators of their expanding knowledge and growing imaginations.

An intricately drawn image of Batman taking a nap while Daniel Tiger builds a snowman. And that large green square? That’s their recycle bin, duh.

A rainbow…minus brown because, well, “that’s an icky color.”

And a shiny red pancreas…no question to whom it belongs, the letters I-S-A staring up at me from the paper.

“Hey, Isa, did you draw this pancreas?”

“What pancreas?”

“This red one…with your name on it.”

“That’s not a pancreas…that’s a heart, mom.” (Insert frowny 4-year-old face)

I stared at the drawing that just a minute before I was sure was an exact replica of the I Heart Guts pancreas pillow we’d given Isabella a year ago.

I stared at the drawing that I assumed was my daughter’s way of illustrating a dream she has. Just as Mia dreams of sunny days after the rain, and Max of saving the earth one less landfill and bad guy at a time, Isa dreams of a pancreas that would just do its darn job already.

I stared at the drawing and realized that my interpretation of what Isabella had drawn wasn’t necessarily her dream…but mine. My interpretation was what I assume she spends her time thinking about: life without this disease. Life without needles and finger pricks. Life without carb counting and unpredictable highs and dangerous lows. These are the things I dream about…

But that isn’t what SHE dreams about. This heart…red and emblazoned with I-S-A…this is the organ that matters most to my daughter right now. A symbol of love and, most importantly, LIFE.

While I might secretly wish that Isabella understood how different her life would be without T1D, it’s days like this that I’m reminded that she is not defined by this disease. I’m reminded that she is allowed to have dreams filled with Sophia the First and cupcakes, without a test strip in sight. Her dreams don’t have to mirror mine. Life for her can, and SHOULD, be about more than her disease. Much more.

And while a teeny piece of me was excited that she’d drawn a pretty great pancreas, another part of me was happy to hear that diabetes isn’t the first thing that pops into her mind each day.  In fact, it’s probably not even the fifteenth thing.

So I say to my little one: You just keep dreaming of giant red hearts because that right there? That is the organ that truly matters most.

Cheers to Changing the World,
Kristina

To the Ends of the Earth…

Isa and Aunt Shelly

Isabella and her Aunt Shelly during the 2014 JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes

**Thank you to Isabella’s Aunt Shelly for being our special guest blogger this week! We hope you enjoy her post below.

Over the weekend we kept the trio on Saturday night so Greg and Kristina could enjoy a night out to themselves. I swear that the cousins can never get enough of each other and would really prefer to just move in together.

Within about 2 hours of us getting back to our house and having dinner Isa’s blood sugar was high….220 to be exact. She ate dinner and it was just hitting her. I texted Greg to ask him a question about her insulin on board (IOB) and to verify that I should not adjust her insulin at this time and to give her insulin time to work. He verified that was the right thing to do. See?  I’m getting pretty good at handling this stuff by now.

The rest of the night was uneventful. The kids ran around for a little bit until we settled them down for a movie and put them to bed. They were all pretty tired and went right to sleep. We’re pretty good at that as well….7 kids in the house and all go right to sleep…no problem.

Within 30 minutes of bedtime Isa’s continuous glucose monitor (CGM) started beeping telling me she was low. I checked her and she was definitely low….56 to be exact. That’s pretty low if you’re wondering. I gave her some juice and her number came up to 80 within about an hour.

Unfortunately she hovered around that 80 all night which meant a constant beeping CGM and more juice throughout the night. Trying to get a 4-year-old to drink juice in the middle of the night when she really doesn’t want it isn’t an easy task for sure. By 4am I put my husband on that duty and he finally got her to drink the rest of what was left of what we were trying to give her.

What I remember distinctly from that night is that I sat in my bed and do what I do best: I prayed. I prayed for Greg and Kristina first. I prayed for their guidance and for their support through this as I know this cannot be easy day in and day out on a parent. Mostly, I know it cannot be easy watching their little girl knowing she’s not going to wake up better the next day. Then I prayed for Isa…like I do so often. I prayed for her strength. I prayed for there to be a cure one day. I prayed for the doctors taking care of her. I prayed that as she gets older she is able to take care of this on her own and doesn’t rebel. I prayed that she be ok in the morning…..this was my biggest prayer in that moment, and I’m sure one that Greg and Kristina worry every night when they go to bed.

The next day Greg told me how to temporarily turn off Isa’s basal insulin on her pump so she stops getting it…which is probably what needed to occur the night we had her so her numbers could come back up. That’s the thing with this disease: there is no simple answer. A lot of it is trial and error and seeing what works best for you or what works best in the moment. Type 1 Diabetes is manageable, but the scary part is that you just never know. One wrong move and the person dealing with this disease could be in a coma or not wake up.

I am always in awe of Greg and Kristina’s willingness to let us keep their little girl without a second thought. I never, not one time, have felt like they worry about Isa when she’s with us. I second guess myself sometimes about what I could have done differently and I would go to the ends of the Earth for my niece. I love her like I love my own children. Kristina and Greg are educating so many through their guidance, their love and their patience with this disease. They are giving Isa the tools to one day, when she’s older, be able to go out on her own and conquer the world. Hopefully when that happens they will not worry about her quite as much because she’s been trained so well. I am in awe, as always.

~Shelly

Now, we wait.

trioChecking…

Checking…

We stared intently at the meter, seemingly taking forever to provide a blood sugar reading.

Checking…

Checking…

84.

And with that we released a sigh of relief. Today would not be the day we had another child diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Nope, not today.

This wouldn’t be the first time we’d checked one of the other kid’s blood sugar…and it probably won’t be the last.

Since Isabella’s diagnosis almost two years ago it’s become commonplace for people we meet to express their surprise that just one of our trio has T1D.

“She’s the only one? Hmmm, that’s so interesting.”

“Are you worried about the other two ‘getting it’?”

“Well, you know the warning signs so you’ll be prepared if it does happen.”

“At least you know how to manage it already.”

Truth…but a painful one to think about.

During the Children with Diabetes Friends for Life Conference in 2013 we learned about TrialNet – a two-part clinical study being conducted by “an international network of researchers who are exploring ways to prevent, delay and reverse the progression of type 1 diabetes.” We stopped by the TrialNet table during the conference and spoke with someone about our family participating in the screening that checks for autoantibodies that are predictors of type 1 diabetes development.

We left the table with a stack of forms to complete so that Isabella’s brother and sister, as well as Greg and I, could be tested during the conference. As we packed our bags four days later I remember tossing the papers into the hotel room trash can. We couldn’t do it.

There are many schools of thought on whether it’s better to know that something bad is inevitable, or to live life as it is and just take what is handed to you as it comes. Would we do anything differently if we knew, with a good amount of certainty, that one or both of Isabella’s siblings would also develop type 1? Would it change the way we are living our life today? Would we just be in a static state of paranoia – checking their blood sugar regularly to see if ‘today is the day’?

The answer is: I don’t know.

You never know how you’ll react to news you don’t want to hear. You never know if you’ll be able to hold it together so that your kids don’t see the breaking of the Hoover Dam that is bound to happen behind your eyes. You never know if you’ll wait…and wait…and wait…for nothing to ever happen.

And you never know how strong you are until that’s the only option you have.

Two weeks ago during this year’s Friends for Life Conference our TrialNet paperwork made its way to the scientists. We all held out our arms for the blood draw that will ultimately let us know if anyone else in our house has the autoantibodies that predict type 1 diabetes. Two weeks ago we made a decision that we wanted to help advance the research into this disease and that, by participating in this study, we would be helping scientists understand more about T1D and move towards finding a cure.

Sitting at the hotel pool later that day I met a woman who told me her non-type 1 child had participated in TrialNet the year before. She told me, with tears forming behind her sunglasses, that the day they got the phone call with the results was harder than the day her type 1 child was diagnosed. The test had come back positive for the autoantibodies. Now, she told me, they just live in a state of limbo since, technically, her other child hasn’t been diagnosed. A state of limbo waiting for the excessive thirst, frequent urination, weight loss…waiting for the day they “officially” become a family with two kids with type 1 diabetes.

So now we wait. But we wait knowing that, regardless of the call we might receive in a few months when our results are ready, we are part of a bigger picture. A picture of hope that one day two mothers can sit on the poolside watching their children play – no medical devices attached to their bodies keeping them alive – like kids should do…without a care in the world.

Now, we wait.

Cheers to Changing the World~
Kristina

Grandma Gets It: Diabetes and Disney

*Our family had the opportunity to attend this year’s Children With Diabetes ‘Friends for Life’ Conference held each summer in Orlando.  This was our second year attending the conference and we decided to invite one of Isabella’s grandmothers, Darlene, to join us. While we will be sharing our own thoughts on the conference (look for 2 additional posts from us with our mom & dad reflections), we also asked “Grandma Dar Dar” to write a guest blog about her experience.  We hope it will encourage other grandparents, aunts, uncles, and extended family to consider learning more about caring for a child with type 1 diabetes…the more people a family has on their diabetes care team, the better!

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A great night at the Friends for Life banquet!

I spent an incredible week with my son Greg, daughter-in-law Kristina and triplet grandchildren, Isabella, Mia and Max in Orlando for the Children with Diabetes Friends for Life conference. When they invited me to go with them, I had no idea what all was involved.

The conference didn’t start until Wednesday so we spent the first 2 1/2 days at the Disney parks and it was such fun. I think we stood in line to see every Disney princess possible…as well as Mickey and Minnie. The kids were so excited.

We went on rides, too, and while waiting in line for one ride, Isabella pointed to a little girl in front of us and said that she had a green bracelet on. Her dad asked her what it meant and she said that the girl had diabetes. We hadn’t signed in for the conference yet but, when you sign in, you get a green paper bracelet if you have T1D and an orange bracelet for those who do not have T1D. Isa remembered this from the previous year and it amazed me that she remembered this. Then Isa showed the little girl her OmniPod insulin pod.

When you go somewhere with children you have to take extra clothes, snacks, diapers or Pull-Ups, if needed. When your child has T1D you also need to bring glucose tablets, juice boxes, insulin, a glucometer and glucagon (an injection in case the blood sugar drops too low). Greg and Kristina checked Isabella’s glucose level frequently throughout the day. While we were waiting for the shuttle to take us back to the hotel, the kids were running around and all of a sudden, Isa was just standing there and said she was tired. Greg immediately checked her glucose level and it was in the low 50s so they gave her a juice box to bring it back up. This made me realize that she needs to be checked frequently…and it is a big responsibility.

At the conference I attended a number of sessions for grandparents and learned a lot. Even though I am a retired nurse, I didn’t know a lot about T1D and how to handle the highs and lows since so much has changed with the use of pumps and continuous glucose monitors(CGM). You really need to be on top of things and recognize the symptoms of low blood sugar.

I have also been very concerned about the complications of diabetes and worried for my beautiful granddaughter but ,after attending one session, I was relieved to learn that long-term complications usually only occur if the blood sugar has been high(250-300 or more) for an extended period of time. In fact, one presenter has had diabetes for 55 years and is doing fine.

An interesting statistic is that 15,000 children per year are diagnosed with T1D. A doctor at the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) in Miami, Dr. Chris Fraker, has found a correlation between certain viruses and T1D and hopes that one day if they can find a way to stop the viruses from destroying the islet cells in the pancreas which produce insulin, then diabetes will be cured.

Many who attended the conference have been coming for years and have developed friendships. It was so great to see the older kids interact with Isa and when Isa saw someone with a green bracelet, she wanted to meet them and show them her insulin pump or the Dexcom CGM she just stared using. 

We heard from athletes with T 1D who have done amazing things like competed in NASCAR and Indy car races (Ryan Reed and Charlie Kimball), doing triathlons (Jay Hewitt), and one young man who is running four marathons per week for nine months across Canada (Sebastian Sasseville) and they are an inspiration to the young people with T1D and show them that they can do anything they set their sights on.

It was a wonderful week and one that I will always remember. 

-Darlene

A Reflection on Linens

 

Scarred fingertips: the shared badge of those with T1D...even at age 3.

Scarred fingertips: The badge Isabella shares with others with Type 1 Diabetes.

I pull the matching pink quilts out of the dryer and head upstairs to do what I always tell Greg is my least favorite house-cleaning task: changing sheets. Before dropping off each quilt in the girl’s rooms I hold them up to determine whose is whose. Two years ago these quilts were identical in every way.

But today they are different.

One still has the bright pink glow that got me to succumb to purchasing a non-sale item from Pottery Barn Kids.

The other is faded from too-frequent washings.

One is always placed on the bed with the corner tags tickling the footboard.

The other gets rotated each time so as to distribute evenly the tiny stains of blood drops that, despite our best efforts to wipe clean little fingers after middle-of-the-night blood sugar checks, have accumulated over the past year and a half.

And so I place the quilts on the girls beds…and continue my dislike of changing sheets.

Because today they are different.

Cheers to Changing the World (and linens)~
Kristina

Offending ‘Miss Manners’

 

BGCheck

Earlier this week advice columnist Judith Martin, whose Miss Manners column is carried by more than 200 newspapers worldwide, responded to a reader’s question regarding whether or not those with diabetes should check their blood sugar in public settings.  Her response was a column entitled “Do Diabetic Testing in Private” and included the following paragraph:

Absent an emergency, medical applications (like bodily functions and grooming) are properly done out of sight — meaning in private or in a restroom — unless they can be done so surreptitiously as to be unrecognizable as such.

As a father of a child with type 1 diabetes, I felt I needed to respond to her and, after writing, decided my message should be shared publicly with all of you.

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Dear Miss Manners,

I read your recent response to the gentleman inquiring about testing his blood in public. While you are certainly entitled to your opinions, your response shows  ignorance and lack of education about type one diabetes (T1D), as well as a lack of compassion for those living with T1D and their caretakers. As a father of a three and a half year old with T1D, I must say that I was completely appalled by your response.

My daughter, Isabella, was diagnosed with T1D in August 2012, just two weeks before her second birthday. She spent four long days in the hospital after her diagnosis while the doctors pumped her tiny body full of insulin. During that time the doctors and nurses educated us about type one diabetes, an autoimmune disease that we knew nothing about until that moment. We learned that had we not caught some of the symptoms early on, our daughter may have slipped into a coma or worse in a matter or days. We learned that our daughter’s life would never be the same. We also learned that we would have to check her blood glucose levels at least 8-10 times per day, count every carb that she consumes and give her insulin injections at least four times per day.

 This became Isabella’s new “normal” life. What we know, and you likely do not, is that failure to closely monitor her glucose, properly count carbs or administer precise amounts of insulin could ultimately lead to our daughter’s death. Therefore, I view every single moment of every single day (awake and asleep) as an emergency. Our daughter’s life literally depends on frequent blood checks and insulin. We have always checked Isabella’s blood in public and administered insulin injections in public, as well. We have always taught Isabella that T1D is a part of her life and she should never be ashamed or embarrassed about it, nor ever let it define her. And, even at three and a half years old, she has embraced her diabetes, checks her own blood sugar and loves talking about her diabetes with anyone that will listen. We would never suggest that she stop doing any of those things because there is a chance that it might make others uncomfortable.

Isabella now wears an insulin pump that is physically attached to her body at all times. We are often asked about the device, which gives us an opportunity to educate others and raise awareness at the same time. I would never even think about covering it up simply so that no one else can see it (so they don’t become uncomfortable about my daughter’s diabetes, I suppose, according to your logic).

The reality is that Isabella is different than other kids, including her triplet brother and sister….however, we would never make her feel different and ashamed by hurrying her off to the restroom every time we have to check her blood sugar when we’re out in public. We believe it is extremely important that she is completely comfortable talking about her diabetes and the effects it has on her life, physically and emotionally, now at only three and a half years old and as she gets older.

We want Isabella to share her story with the world. As her parents, that’s exactly what we have been doing for the past year and a half and will continue to do so until a cure is found for our daughter and millions of others living with this terrible disease. I can assure you that observing a simple finger prick is nowhere near as uncomfortable as what my daughter and millions of others go through every day of their lives.

Your column only motivates us even more and reminds us that we still have a lot of work to do to educate others and raise awareness.

-Greg Dooley

www.InspiredbyIsabella.com