Childhood obesity, food allergies and Type 1 (T1D, formerly called juvenile) diabetes — kids can face many possible health challenges. I recently chatted with mother, nurse and diabetes education advocate Jennifer Natividad about her experience parenting a child with Type 1 diabetes.
How did you discover your daughter has T1D and what indicators can other parents look for?
At age 7, Annika had all the classic signs: frequent urination, thirst, hunger, and weight loss. She kept filling her cup of water over and over. She was losing weight. We went swimming and seeing her in a swimsuit it really hit; there was something wrong.
Is there anything parents can do to prevent this condition?
No. There are many theories of causes, including contributing factors such as puberty, growth spurts, genetic predisposition, hyper or auto immune response, virus, medications, and environmental.
What advice does Annika have for kids with this condition, especially those who just received the news, are old enough to comprehend it, and are struggling?
Keep calm and stay strong!
What advice do you, as a mom and a nurse, have for kids who have T1D?
When diagnosed, your life changes dramatically, but kids can live long, healthy lives. There is never a good time to have Type 1, but with the latest management, 2014 is a better time than years past. There are improved medications, insulin pumps, and continuous blood sugar monitors that make life easier.
The goal for any child is independence. If a child is old enough to brush their teeth they can do their own blood sugar. They need some help with reminders of time and help opening a juice box or other sugar source when they are low. Hiding your diabetes can be very dangerous. Annika always looks for an opportunity to spread awareness.
What advice do you have for parents, especially those who just received the diagnosis?
Diabetes is a real-life pin ball game, where the little metal ball is your child's blood sugar. There are ups and downs and many things not in your control that pop up and you have to act quickly. You have to be constantly aware where the ball is and keep pushing the buttons. It takes vigilance.
What area resources are available?
Mary Washington Hospital has a diabetes center that I can't praise enough. They have a world class children's group called "Kids for a Cure Club" that offers summer camp, education, and fun parties! Being with others in the same boat has been a great comfort for Annika.
What can you tell us about legislative issues you've worked on related to T1D management in the public schools?
Due to Annika's experience in public schools, we took our issues to the Virginia State Capitol and successfully passed legislation last year. Checking sugars frequently is part of good care. She needs her supplies with her while at school, and that is what the law now says she (and any other child with T1D) can legally bring them to school!