*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!
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.