Being the Parent of a Diabetic
By William Chatham
I want to share some perspective of what it is like to have a child that is diabetic to help make the connection to why it’s so important to support research like what is being done at the UC Irvine Diabetes Center.
Our son Clayton was diagnosed with diabetes on May 17, 2011 at the age of 15…a day we will NEVER forget! Clay being the youngest of our three kids, we suddenly became the statistic that 1 in 3 kids will be diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes . We entered the hospital in a whirlwind. Here is this athletic 6’6” “kid” that didn’t fit in the hospital bed, who was anxious to leave, but who was now facing the realization that his and our world had changed forever!
So we began the journey of living with Type 1 and learning to manage his Glycemic Index (level of sugars in his blood). Too high or too low and there could be some serious complications – including mortality. As you can imagine our lives became filled with worry, sleepless nights, and the realization that our son’s health, which we previously took for granted, was now front and center of our world. It is really hard to watch your child go through this, with the constant needles in the finger to test, shots to regulate insulin, and now changing the pump sight. The fear of making a mistake, even a small mistake, is very real!
Initially it was trial and error, trying not to overshoot the moves up and down; a constant adjustment.
We quickly learned that:
- You can do the same thing five out of five days and get different numbers.
- Your body now processes food differently, which effects your level. For example, rice metabolizes faster that mashed potatoes.
- Things like adrenaline and anger can boost your number. In a single baseball game Clay was hit twice by the pitcher, sending him up to a level of 295.
- A cold can boost your number, even if you don’t have clear symptoms yet.
Stress has an effect, different foods have an effect, the amount of exercise has an effect…everything has an effect!
Everything we took for granted now required careful thought, precise calculations and flawless execution. We quickly realized that we had to be a nurse, a mathematician, a teacher, a dietitian, and a counselor just to manage this situation! Diabetes became a full time job for my wife as a support for our son.
Over the last few years, we have seen our son tackle this challenge head on. He is now in New Hampshire, 3000 miles away, making his way through his third year at college. There are constant worries, creating some sleepless nights back here at home – What if he doesn’t wake up? How can we help him from so far away? How will we even know if something happens?
We take comfort knowing we are blessed with a son who is analytical, somewhat regimented, and works out regularly. He is a pitcher in college and has demonstrated his ability to manage through so many variables at school and on the field.
Now five years from diagnosis, we are entering a new phase; the one that I feared would come, the one that I have heard from almost every parent, the “I can manage this by feel” phase. In September, before he left for school, his three month average sugar level (or A1C) was 8.9 which is the low end of “out of control”. So much for managing this by feel!
That said we have had great care from Dr. Singh at the UC Irvine Diabetes Center.
This disease is a very personal journey. I think there are similarities in the diagnosis, but everyone reacts in their own way and it is a constant adjustment process to react to external and internal factors. Our hearts goes out to all of the infants, toddlers and children who are diagnosed – all they know are needles, meters, shots and generally not feeling great. By my math, Clay has checked his blood approximately 18,000 times just over the last 5 years.
We are fortunate to be living in a time where today’s medicine is a LOT better than it used to be, thanks to great research being done here and around the world. But the harsh reality is that no matter where we are in this journey, we are NEVER completely out of the woods. Diabetics can’t take a weekend off or take a vacation from this disease – it is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year job!
There is better and better technology being developed every day to manage the disease, but NOT CURE it! Dr. Wang and the UCI team of researchers are working hard toward developing a cure, something that can end this disease once and for all.
It is with help from generous donors that they can get one step closer to achieving this goal.