Can You Imagine
The Challenge of Childhood Diabetes?

Article written by Amy Todisco
from Green Living Now Newsletter
October 2006

I can't.

Neither could my friend, Laura, until she got a call from her family doctor and learned that her seemingly healthy 7-year -old son, Danny, had diabetes. Lab tests confirmed it. He had to go to the hospital immediately. So began her family's wild ride into the world of childhood diabetes with the need to create a new sense of "normal."

Who can imagine having to give insulin shots to your child several times per day? When I've had blood taken, I can't even look at the needle for fear of passing out. Laura also has to make sure that there aren't any bubbles in the syringe and that the old insulin is out of Danny's system.

What about calculating every carbohydrate to make sure that his blood sugar doesn't get too low or too high? How about waking up every night to check that his blood sugars aren't dipping for fear he'll lapse into a coma? Though keeping a baby monitor on to listen for any strange sounds was a great idea, it also meant more restless sleep for Laura and her husband, Brian. Frankly, I don't know how they slept, or ate, or breathed at all.

"How can a parent of a diabetic child trust others to care for her child?"

And how can a parent of a diabetic child trust others to care for her child? One slip-up could mean the end for Danny. That's why Laura had a Visiting Nurse Association nutritionist meet with all of his teachers and make them aware of everything they needed to know about keeping Danny safe. She even spent weeks sitting in the auditorium of his school each day to make sure that his teachers felt confident that they could handle the responsibility and would be aware of all the signs indicating that Danny might be in trouble.

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As Laura mentions in her new book, "The Challenge of Diabetes: Family Strategies for Raising a Healthy Child", "It was like having a new baby again, with no end in sight." Laura's book, which she wrote with her mom, Linda Weltner, (former Boston Globe columnist and fabulous writer), is one of the most amazing books I've ever read. That's not just because Laura is a friend. (We were in a mother's group together in MA many years ago, and shared a carpool when our children attended the same school before we moved to VT). I'd always admired and respected Laura. She's quite an amazing woman, but after reading what she and her family have been through over the last four years, I'm blown away.

On a regular basis Laura would go around the corner to her parents' house and share with her mother everything that was going on: all of her fears, (she's incredibly honest), successes, disappointments and challenges. Laura's mom, Linda, helped her assemble all of this information into a well-written, clear, and incredibly powerful journey about their personal experience with Danny's diabetes. Linda also interviewed immediate family members to get their perspective, including Danny's older sister. Jessie, only four years older, has been an incredible caretaker of her younger brother. Often she will see signs in Danny that his blood sugar is too high or low and alert the adults nearby. She has taken an active role in learning and caring for her brother that is really quite astounding, especially for someone so young.

I laughed and cried as I read this book. One particularly poignant moment was when Laura and Danny discussed the possibility that he could die. Laura and Brian didn't want to share the life-threatening aspect of diabetes with Danny and Jessie at first. Any parent can understand not wanting to unnecessarily frighten their children. One day Danny asked what would happen if his blood sugar got too low. Laura matter-of-factly described the procedure that she would take to get his numbers up again. Then he asked what would happen if she weren't there. Again, with great calm and composure, she assured Danny that someone would dial 9-1-1. The logical next question Danny asked was what would happen if he were alone and nobody was there to help him. Laura said that he'd stay in a coma until someone came along and called for help. And, if no one came to help him, he asked. "Then you would die, Danny," Laura said. "Bummer," he said to that. Bummer indeed. That's when I ran to get a tissue to dry my eyes and read my husband, Paul, that stunning passage. His eyes welled up too.

"There is so much useful information in this little paperback book."

There is SO much useful information in this little paperback book. Laura did tireless amounts of research about diabetes. There's even a "Parent's Survival Guide" at the end which provides information on what to have in a "fanny pack" (glucose meters, spare batteries, glucose gel, etc.). There is a sample medical information sheet, daily food logs, nutrition suggestions, family coping strategies, self-care suggestions, where to get support, and much more.

Laura was not content to just accept conventional medical beliefs about how to treat and live with this disease. She figured out how to extend Danny's "honeymoon period," (the period of remission after the original diabetes diagnosis when the pancreas resumes producing some insulin itself. She also increased her family's amount of exercise, drastically improved their diet, and incorporated holistic treatments, (such as acupuncture and foot reflexology). The family worked on issues of sibling rivalry, how to keep the marriage together, and built a stronger bond between family members. Through all of this hard work, Danny has been able to attain excellent blood sugar levels and they have created a new sense of "normal."

Even if you don't have a child with diabetes or know anyone who does, this book is valuable for all of us to read. After I finished it, I started thinking more about ways to continue to improve my family's diet, always an interest of mine. Some of the things readers can learn about living with a diabetic child are: how to go on vacation, to camp, and on school trips; dietary changes that will improve everyone's health; coping with illnesses, such as colds, fevers, flu, dealing with Halloween and holidays; attending diabetes camp; and perhaps most importantly, developing a diabetes team of doctors and other health professionals, as well as a strong support system.

I highly recommend Laura's book! Kudos, Plunkett/Weltner family. You've shared an amazing journey which I'm sure will help many others.