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Using a Glucometer
Using a Glucometer

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Online learning resources for diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and nutrition.
Diabetes 101: Learn more about diabetes, managing your blood sugar levels, and your diet.
Diabetes 201: Learn more about diabetes, managing your blood sugars, and your diet.
Asthma 101: Learn more about asthma and dealing with shortness of breath.
Hypertension 101: Learn more about hypertension and managing your blood pressure.
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Parenting: Growing in Good Health

Seeking Help: Diabetes in the Working Family

By Gene B. Williams

"The whole family needs to get its act together. The kid can't fix himself if the rest of the family isn't participating."

When Matt was 12, his parents went through a bitter divorce. Matt's mother left and his father became a single working parent. This difficult time grew only more complicated when, two years later, Matt was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

"I didn't think it could get any worse," Matt said. "Mom was gone. Dad was always tired and in a bad mood. I felt like it was all my fault ... And now, Dad is never here to help."

Ruben, Matt's father, feels just as lost. "I leave for work before he is even up for school," he explained. "There is no choice in it. I can plan his diet, but I'm not there to see that it is done. At least Matt is old enough that he can handle most of it himself, but I still worry constantly."

Working parents make it work

Because caring for a child with diabetes can itself be a full time job, working parents often struggle to find a balance. Three times in a month Matt was rushed to the emergency room with erratic blood sugar levels that ranged from as low as 50 to as high as 500. After a number of close calls, it became clear to Ruben that he needed help.

He got in touch with James Statler, a diabetes educator. And Statler's first course of action was to teach Matt's family more about the nature of the disease.

Statler explained the danger signs, what to do, and when and how to do it. He taught the family to keep accurate records of the blood tests to make sure that the doctor was kept informed.

Statler also helped coordinate Matt's treatment by working with the family, the doctor and the school. The team approach is crucial, explained Statler. "This is what makes it work. The child can't do it alone."

Manic mornings

The most difficult part of the day for Matt and his family is morning, when Ruben has left for work. On a typical day, Matt wakes and tests his blood sugar level, usually with no adult supervision. He then makes and eats his breakfast, waits, tests again, and takes the bus to school.

The biggest worry in the morning is the dawn phenomenon. For reasons not completely understood, blood sugar levels rise just before dawn. A person with diabetes, especially a young person, might wake in a daze, or may not wake at all.

Though most mornings are fine, Matt has a back up team in place, just in case. To ensure that Matt gets up on time, his younger sister, Becky, sets her own alarm. And next door, Matt's uncle and aunt make sure they are awake an available in case of an emergency.

It's a family affair

According to Dr. Phillip Zeitler of the Children's Hospital in Denver, family support makes all the difference. "The whole family needs to get its act together. The kid can't fix himself if the rest of the family isn't participating."

The vigilance of Matt's family to pull together when Ruben can't be there has been the key to helping him cope with all the complications of diabetes.

And with the aid of education, they have the information they need to help. "The killer isn't so much the diabetes," said Statler, "it's the ignorance. Even when the parents work, if everyone pulls together at home, the child with diabetes can lead a full and normal life."

With the advice of medical experts, Matt's own determination, and the support of his family, all are confident that even though Matt's disease won't be cured, it can be controlled. Progress is already evident. As is common with many juveniles with diabetes, Matt had been underweight, and often lacked energy.

"I've already gained 35 pounds," Matt said. "Sometimes I don't feel so good, but I'm feeling better now than I have in months."

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