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Mother's worst nightmare turns to hope

After her son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, columnist learns the disease can be managed and works toward a cure.

November 24, 2010|By Greer Wylder

Five years ago this month, my second son, Tristan, started to complain that his vision had gotten blurry. I also had noticed he was gulping down everything in sight, and he seemed to be urinating constantly.

The day before Thanksgiving, I took Tristan, then 14, for a vision test at the pediatrician's office, and when the eye exam was done, I — as casually as possible — asked for a urine test. Although I hadn't told anyone, I knew he had the telltale signs of type 1 diabetes.

A few minutes later, Dr. Eugene Chen returned to our room to tell us Tristan's blood sugars were in the 400s (100 would be normal), and that he had type 1 diabetes.

He said Dr. Susan Clark, the head of endocrinology at the Children's Hospital of Orange County (CHOC), was waiting for us to be admitted. We would be spending Thanksgiving in the hospital.

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Tristan had no idea what type 1 diabetes was; he didn't know what to think. He didn't cry; he didn't ask questions.

For me, the room was spinning. I hugged him and told him I would be right back. I found a closet so that Tristan couldn't hear me, and I called my husband to tell him the devastating news.

I was inconsolable; he couldn't understand a word I said. The only picture in my mind was my friend I knew in high school who died at 21 from complications of type 1.

I thought Tristan had gotten a death sentence.

Within the hour, Tristan, his older brother, Taylor, my husband and I, were at CHOC learning how to test blood sugars and give injections of insulin on a table littered with blood glucose meters, syringes, lancets, test strips, alcohol swabs, vials of insulin, ketone strips and glucagon guns.

We also learned that every bite of food or drink has to be measured for carbohydrates, and then we needed to determine the correct dose of insulin to properly break down the sugar from it. This isn't a simple math calculation.

Exercise, illness, stress and extreme temperatures can throw the ratios way out of whack. It's a constant guessing game.

We were told that our fears about type 1 diabetes — specifically our belief that it would result in Tristan's premature death — were outdated. With modern advances, including constant monitoring of blood sugars, he could live a long life if he kept tight control on his disease.

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