It was the day before he turned eight years old and a day I would never forget. His parents had to work, so my husband and I volunteered to watch him and his siblings. We thought we would be the fun Aunt and Uncle and take all five kids (two are mine) to Disney World for the day. Almost immediately, I began to notice that my oldest nephew was drinking a ton of water. It was the beginning of September in Florida and very hot, so I assumed he was just a little dehydrated. We kept on giving him water bottles since he would finish one bottle and immediately ask for more. It wasn’t until after lunch that I began to think something was wrong. He didn’t look well, so we decided to head back home.
My sister was home from work by the time we arrived at the house. We told her about the day and it was then she mentioned a few strange symptoms she had noticed with him recently —like urinating more often and complaining about his vision. I remember watching him play catch with my husband in the front yard and noticing his ribs as he reached up to catch the ball. Thankfully, my sister is in the medical field and knew these were some of the signs for diabetes. She said that he had a doctor appointment coming up and would bring it up then. What were the chances he had diabetes? He was healthy and normal and it didn’t run in our family.
Worried that she may be overthinking his symptoms, she went ahead and bought a blood glucose meter that night. She checked his blood sugar and it just flashed “HIGH.” His blood sugar was so high it wouldn’t register on the meter. She rushed him to the ER and they immediately admitted him to the Pediatric ICU. Doctors confirmed her suspicions. My nephew had Type 1 Diabetes and was in Diabetic Ketoacidosis, a medical complication where your blood sugar is so high that it becomes acidic and begins to kill your organs. His doctors said he was extremely lucky. He would not have made it through that night if she hadn’t have come in when she did. Most children with this diagnosis arrive already in a coma, unable to wake up from the night before.
They were able to stabilize his blood sugar, and learning to manage Type 1 Diabetes became his new normal. Not all kids are that lucky. Many get misdiagnosed with the flu and never get to go home. But, because my sister and his amazing team of doctors knew the symptoms for diabetes, he would be ok.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Type 1 Diabetes. It is an autoimmune disease that attacks the pancreas and causes it to stop functioning. Everyday for the rest of his life, he will have to endure multiple shots and finger pricks to make sure his blood sugar is in the safe range. He will have to calculate every carb he eats to match it with insulin so his blood doesn’t turn too acidic. If he waits too long to eat and his sugar drops too low he could pass out and die. Every single day he dances on the line of life and death.
His parents wake in the middle of the night to check his sugar, sometimes waking him up for a cup of juice to keep his blood sugar from dropping too low. If they don’t, he may not wake up the next day. They stay strong for him, teaching him that he can lead a normal life. We all hide our tears behind closed doors, thinking about what his future will bring. Wishing we could take this horrible disease from him.
We see the quizzical looks from other kids when he has to stop playing to give himself a shot. Do they think he is sick or weak? The truth is, he is far from weak. He takes his health into his own hands and keeps an amazing and positive outlook. It has been one year since he was diagnosed. He calculates his own insulin and gives himself shots, and he understands the disease better than most adults.
The daily burden on children and adults with this disease is so great. Type 1 Diabetes is not given the same amount of attention as other types because of the lack of research and the fact that it isn’t considered a terminal disease. That doesn’t mean that these people don’t face death every single day. They continue to live a normal life as best as they can with the knowledge they could actually die while sleeping.
My nephew is my hero. He is already stronger than I’ll ever be. He is #type1strong.