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The Challenge of Childhood Diabetes

December 2008 -
The Challenge of Childhood Diabetes Newsletter

Grandparenting Children with Diabetes

If you have loving, available, helpful parents in your lives, you are one of the lucky few. When your child was diagnosed with diabetes, their lives changed with yours and you found yourself relying on help you never thought you would have to ask for.  If it wasn't your parents, perhaps it was another family member, a close friend, or a neighbor who stepped in and got involved. These brave souls loved you and your family enough to step forward, putting their own fears, hectic schedules and needs aside in order to provide support.

This newsletter is for them. It is designed to address the unique issues caregivers face when supporting a family with diabetes. In the Resource Section are two articles written by my mother, a veteran of the ups and downs a family can go through. In the Supporting Each Other section is a moving letter from a grandmother who saw her grandchild in crisis and moved across the country to help. Below, I offer an excerpt from my book, “The Challenge of Childhood Diabetes: Family Strategies for Raising a Healthy Child,” which describes the ways a friend can help.

Please feel free to share this newsletter with those that have helped you and yours.

All my best to you during this holiday season,

Laura Plunkett

Another Family to Lean On

Danny had a school friend named Zach whose parents, Jack and Robin, took the time to master the details of diabetes. When Danny was at their house, they reminded him to test, supervised his shots, managed his carbohydrates, and made sure the boys stayed active rather than watching television or playing video games. We were incredibly lucky to have such good friends. Robin worked especially hard to educate herself, and this is what she told me about her perspective:

“From my point of view dealing with diabetes is a question of sticking to a schedule and testing a lot. The first time I had Danny, I was apprehensive. Now it’s not a big deal. There’s medical care nearby, but he’s never been sick with me, and we’ve never needed it. When I have Danny, I test a lot because I don’t know the signals that indicate he’s high or low. If he’s low, I just give him glucose tabs and some carbohydrates. You don’t want to overreact and give him too much because then you get a yo-yo effect, and trying to regain control gets impossible. If he’s high, though, I’m more concerned. With highs, I go for exercise as well as insulin. Sometimes when they are running around a lot, the concern is getting carbs into him. ”

I asked Robin why she wasn’t afraid to be in charge of Danny.

“The thing is, you gave me so much information. I also looked on the Internet and talked to my sister’s son who has diabetes. Information alleviates the fear. I can also talk to Danny about what I’m doing. He knows what he needs, and he educates me. At the same time, he’s a child and he forgets. When he gets up and comes downstairs in the morning, I don’t say, ’Good morning.’ I say, ’Have you tested?’ and I make sure he does.

“We always do better if he only has a few carbs at night and if I put him to bed at a reasonable number, I know I’m okay. If he’s high or low, I get up during the night. I want him to wake up somewhere between eighty and one hundred. If he doesn’t, I take it personally.

“Once early on, we were bowling and Danny said, ’I’m feeling low.’ I told him to test, and it turned out we hadn’t brought his kit. Since we were in the middle of a game, I got him some M’Ms. I could tell he was excited, thinking he was going to eat all of them, but I gave him only five or six because I didn’t want him to go too high. Sugar works pretty fast, and I could tell by looking that he was better soon. So we forgot the kit. No one died,” she continued. “Jack and I took the kids to my niece’s birthday party. The boys had been running around and playing for hours, but when we tested Danny, he was in the high two hundreds. I didn’t know about how effective exercise could be at the time, but I had a feeling we should wait instead of going straight for the insulin. We were driving home, and he felt low. When we tested, Danny was seventy-four. It was a good thing I hadn’t given him insulin.”

“Isn’t the food and exercise a lot to deal with?” I asked.

“I see eye-to-eye with your approach to diet. We’re a low carb household, too, and this is how we eat anyway. I think it would be much harder for people with junk food in the house. When Danny’s coming, I talk to Zach beforehand because I don’t want him eating something that Danny can’t have. It’s not fair. I stock up on a variety of “nibbles” before Danny comes over, not because of the massive quantities they’ll consume, but because I want the boys to have choices. I feel it’s better to say, ’Do you want X or Y, rather than eat this . . .’

“We eat meats and vegetables and cut out pasta. For dinner, we have meatballs and salad or hot dogs and broccoli. The boys eat the same thing. You don’t want to create habits now that will make diabetes more difficult as they get older.”

She agrees with me about exercise. “It’s everything with diabetes. Sometimes I let the boys watch a movie at night, but during the day, they should be active. Exercise is healthy for all children.

“In an emergency, I’d call you because you’re very calm. If I couldn’t reach you, I’d call your doctor at the numbers you’ve given me or hit 9-1-1. Actually, I’m not as worried about the risks of diabetes as the way the boys play. They are more likely to crash heads and end up in the ER.”

Supporting Each Other

Gail Wangerheim of Portland, Oregon contacted me with her heart-warming story, and I offer it as a testament to love.

Two and a half years ago my seven year old granddaughter, Liliana, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. In less than a day I was on an airplane so I could be there to support my daughter and son-in-law. The week that followed was a heart wrenching experience for all of us. I took on the role of being with Liliana as much as possible so that her parents could go through extensive education and instruction on what would be in store for them. I wanted to learn more about Type 1 but I felt that there was time for that. It was more important that they became the experts and I became the shoulder on which to lean.

Leaving the family at the end of the week was very difficult, even though we communicated frequently through trips, phone calls,and email. Needless to say, in a little more than a year my husband and I relocated to Portland, a decision that we have never regretted.

I found that my role as a mother changed very quickly. In the past I was always the educator of the family, free and easy with my advise (whether asked for or not.) But that roll reversed very quickly and I became the student as my daughter, son-in-law, and even my granddaughter became my teachers. This was not a difficult transition as I wanted to learn everything about the disease that was available and they were all so knowledgeable.

What I didn't anticipate was the emotional side that is always there beneath the surface. However hard I try, I can't erase the thought of “Why does this innocent little angel have to deal with this, why can't she just be a child?” I suppose this feeling will never go away, even though I know in my heart that the experience will shape the person she will become. I see this happening already, even at this young age of nine.

Living with Type 1 Diabetes has become an integral part of our family life. All of us, Lili and her mom and dad, Lili's aunt, my husband and I live it every day. We learn together, we share, we love.

My wish for all grandparents of children with Type 1 Diabetes is that you become an interactive member of the team. It is an important step for the entire family.

Share Your Tips

Our next newsletter will focus on the art of parenting teenagers with diabetes. If you have a story to share, I’d love to hear from you at

December 2008

Laura and Linda

My mother, former Boston Globe columnist Linda Weltner, has written two articles about her experiences as the grandmother of a child with diabetes. "My Grandson Has Diabetes" for Diabetes Health magazine describes the lessons she has learned over time and '''Grandma's Close Call" for Diabetes Forecast magazine is her story of one harrowing adventure as a caregiver

For information on improving nutrition, going to the emergency room, helping siblings adjust after diagnosis, and raising wholesome children in a fast-food world, see our  Archived Newsletters.

The Challenge of Childhood Diabetes book
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