Local family's life with diabetes

Son's diagnosis leads to challenges, effort to raise awareness, funds

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It's been more than four years since our youngest son, Blake, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes — 48 months, and at least 12,000 finger pricks to test blood-sugar level, since the doctor identified his weight loss and constant thirst as classic symptoms of that disease.

Living with Type 1 diabetes is a pain. It has forced our family to understand the body in a way that most people never will. Ask anyone what the pancreas does, chances are they won't have a clue. But we know. Beta cells in the pancreas produce insulin that moves sugar from food through the bloodstream and into cells, where it's used as fuel. Basically, the pancreas helps process the energy that keeps us going.

Blake's pancreatic beta cells no longer work, so he must inject insulin to prompt his body to burn sugar. He must count carbohydrates at every meal and exercise regularly to lower his blood sugar. If we don't pay close attention, the excess sugar in his system could eventually become toxic and cause complications like blindness, kidney disease, nerve damage, heart problems and even death.

Our family spent five days after the diagnosis at the hospital. The four of us learned how food affects blood sugar, how mood swings can indicate sugar highs and lows, and the many kinds of insulin there are, and how to mix them. We were scared and overwhelmed, but slowly, Type 1 diabetes has become part of our lives.

Most days, Blake's fine, but we can never go more than a few hours without thinking about the disease, and that gets old. Every night Dana, Blake's mother, has to poke his finger to make sure that his blood sugar is within range. He doesn't like it, and neither does his mom, but we all appreciate her keeping him safe at night.

When Blake was first diagnosed, one of the doctors predicted that our family would be very different in a year's time. Amazingly, we are. We have refocused the energy we spent worrying to promoting awareness about diabetes and raising funds for research we believe will lead to better ways of managing the disease and, eventually, a cure.

On Saturday, Sept. 28, we will participate in the American Diabetes Association's Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes, at Vancouver Landing, a 5K walk to help raise awareness and much-needed funding for diabetes research, programs, education and advocacy. Funding from Step Out goes to local programs, like Safe at School, which serve students and educators all across Clark County.

The Safe at School program is dedicated to the care of children like Blake. They develop the tools needed to provide diabetes care at school, and help families and school personnel develop plans to prevent problems from occurring. When problems do occur, they have a team of advocates ready to find solutions.

For more information on Step Out, visit www.diabetes.org/clarkcountystepout. To schedule a Safe at School training, contact the American Diabetes Association at 503-736-2770.