Making the best of diabetes

Thursday, August 11, 2005
Children at Southeast Misssouri Hospital's Main Street Fitness Camp DAY break spent the last part of their day cooling off with water balloons, during diabetes camp Aug. 5.

Tyson Whiteside has made a name for himself on the soccer field at Central High School.

Last week, Whiteside spent a morning with a group of children showing them how to move a ball up and down the field, advising them that if they want to make the soccer team they need to be able to run four miles in 30 minutes.

Mostly though, he wanted them to know that it's possible to be an outstanding athlete -- or anything else they want to be -- even if they have juvenile diabetes.

Whiteside dropped in at camp DAY (Diabetes and Youth) Break held at the Main Street Fitness Center in Jackson. The camp is held yearly for children with juvenile diabetes to have fun together and learn more about the common bond of their disease.

Too shy to talk to the campers as a group, he mixed in with them, kicked the ball around, and talked with them one on one, answering their questions about soccer and diabetes.

Whiteside, 17, was diagnosed at age 14, and says he is still learning about the disease. But it has not held him back, and he wanted the children at the camp to know that it won't hold them back either. Learning to manage his diabetes has made a big difference in his life, he said.

"I eat better, feel better and play better," Whiteside said.

Juvenile diabetes, unlike adult onset diabetes, is usually diagnosed when parents notice symptoms and take the children to the doctor. Children might be dehydrated and always thirsty, may urinate more than usual, and have frequent infections or skin boils. They have little energy, aren't growing as they should be, have frequent headaches and blurring vision.

The condition impairs the body's ability to use food. People with juvenile diabetes are unable to make insulin, causing it to build up in the blood. They need insulin shots to help their bodies use food.

"These children may check their blood sugar four to six times a day," said Dr. Sarah Aydt, an local internist and pediatrician. "These children are never afraid of needles. They can't be."

When being diabetic is all you know, it becomes normal. During a discussion about the new food pyramid, Aydt said she noticed that most of the children were already familiar with it.

They are reinforcing their math skills by learning how to count carbohydrates and incorporate that into their daily food plan. Even the smallest among them are matter-of-fact about having diabetes. Certified diabetes educator Janet Stewart quizzed the children about recognizing the symptoms of low blood sugar.

"What do you do when you wake up at night and you feel low?" she asked.

A 6-year-old confidently raised her hand, and answered that she would get up and test her blood and if the monitor said it was under 60, she would wake her parents.

"Most are incredibly well adapted," Aydt said. "The parents have a harder time than the kids."

That's especially true of friends' parents, who tend to overprotect diabetic children for fear of harming them. Because daily activity is a major part of managing diabetes, most of the children are fit and athletic. They want to play, not be sidelined by a well-meaning coach.

The children who play on teams know how to cope when their sugar levels drop without missing out on the activities. Stewart warned them not to become complacent but to be sure their coaches, referees, teammates and their parents know they have diabetes.

"You can control what you eat and you can control how much insulin you take, but there are some things you can't control," she said.

Parents, teachers and coaches need to recognize the symptoms and know what to do. Stewart added that hormonal changes in the body at puberty can affect blood sugar levels.

At Camp DAY Break the children play and learn together, eat healthful snacks, without worrying about being different.

"You can work your blood sugar up just worrying," Whiteside said.

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