An 8 year-old Kenny Lopez ’13 anxiously sat in a room at his doctor’s office, waiting to hear back from his pediatrician.
Lopez had been experiencing extreme hunger, weight loss and had been making frequent visits to the restroom for a few weeks before his appointment.
“They tested my blood sugar and my doctor said ‘You have diabetes’ and told my parents I should go to the hospital so they could do even more tests,” Lopez recounted.
He stayed at the hospital for four nights and five days to learn all about his new condition: Type I diabetes.
Diabetes mellitus has two main forms: Type I and Type II, which are most common in young adults.
“It’s a disease where your body begins to attack itself, mainly the pancreas, and inhibits your body’s ability to produce insulin when you need it,” Lopez explained.
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s website states that there are no known ways to prevent or cure this form of the disease, meaning that there was nothing that Lopez could have done.
“People with the disease must carefully balance insulin doses (either by injections multiple times a day or continuous infusion through a pump) with eating and daily activities throughout the day and night,” according to the JDRF website.
“They must also test their blood sugar by pricking their fingers for blood six or more times a day.”
Lopez started with injections twice a day, but switched to an insulin pump when he was 10. The pump serves the same function as a an injection, with the only difference that it is rapidly-acting insulin connected to the person.
Claire Nordstrom ’15, who was diagnosed with Type I in eighth grade, uses an insulin pump instead of insulin shots.
“It is a lot easier to use, because using shots is annoying,” Nordstrom said. “It also is constantly inputting small amounts of insulin into my body throughout the day. It is like an electric pancreas on your belt.”
“One major difference is that you can just tell your pump that you need more insulin because you’re eating more,” Lopez explained.
“When you inject yourself, your body doesn’t know if you’re going to eat something extra. If I was given some dessert that I hadn’t planned for, I wouldn’t be able to eat it,” Lopez said.
Nick Edel ’13, diagnosed during his freshman year with Type I diabetes, also uses an insulin pump.
“I was not on the insulin pump when I was first diagnosed for two years, and it was a constant struggle using insulin pens and having them not work or break,” he said.
“The insulin pump just makes it so much easier tha I don’t have to do my own calculations for how much insulin to take for the certain amount of carbs I am eating in the meal, the pump does that for you, so you don’t make mistakes.”
Though the pump is more effective, those affected by Type I can still run into life threatening conditions.
“I just have to be more careful about things, I can’t go crazy and eat a whole piñata worth of candy, but people who aren’t diabetic shouldn’t either,” Lopez said.
Lopez explained that everyone is different, and one just has to know how much they need to eat. As an athlete, Lopez generally eats more.
He said that he just has to count his carbohydrates because he has already measured his sensitivity to insulin.
“You just have to get used to it,” Lopez said. “It’s not easy but it just becomes normal.”
Students have to “check” themselves by pricking their fingers to test their blood before they eat, go to bed, when they wake up, and other times throughout the day.
“I have to be constantly thinking about it while I’m eating, have to check my blood every time before I eat, and just after I eat, and I have to know how many carbs I have in every type of food,” Edel said.
Liza Wohlberg ’13, diagnosed with Type I at age seven, remembers that her parents had to help her a lot with her new condition, and that she didn’t want to share her disease with others because she felt like the odd one out amongst her classmates. Now that she has learned to handle it, she is using her experience to help others as a JDRF youth ambassador.
As a youth ambassador, Wohlberg meets with young children who have just been diagnosed and may be scared or confused and helps them adjust to their new condition. She participates in events where she gives kids “bags of hope” that include a teddy bear and diabetes friendly snacks.
These students are not alone: according to the American Diabetes Association, 215,000 people under the age of 20 have diabetes and a total of 25.8 million total people nationwide have been diagnosed.
“I think it is something that we can all overcome and come up with a cure. I believe that within the next ten years, this will be the next major cure,” Nordstrom said.