Living with juvenile diabetes: 11-year-old Scott Wallace takes disease in stride
Truckee-resident Scott Wallace is a slender 11-year-old, so there’s not much to grab on his belly when he gives himself an insulin injection.
Scott – who has juvenile, or Type 1, diabetes – is methodical about piercing his own skin and injecting the carefully measured amount of Lantus (or basal insulin) into his bloodstream. He has only been doing this for nine months, but he’s a smart kid and it is an everyday routine.
“It sucks. I have to take lots of shots,” explained Scott, who said he was afraid of shots before he was diagnosed with diabetes nine months ago.
Insulin injections aren’t the end of the poking that Scott endures to maintain a healthy blood sugar level. He pricks himself with a spring-loaded needle (which can pack “machete pain,” Scott says) to draw blood, and then he tests it on a digital monitor. Each time he eats, he has to poke himself with the Humalog pen to inject the proper amount of fast-acting insulin, which depends on how much he has exercised and how much he will eat.
If Scott over- or underestimates the amount of insulin he needs, it strains his kidneys and heart and can block vessels in his extremities and eyes, causing permanent damage.
Luckily the Wallaces have a good medical insurance policy to pay for their son’s prescriptions because maintaining a safe blood sugar level can be expensive. For example, a package of 100 blood test strips cost $80, and Scott uses five strips per day. Without insurance, insulin would cost $400 per month.
Type 1 diabetes: a child’s disease
The Wallaces aren’t alone in their daily challenges with diabetes.
This year, Scott was one of approximately 30,000 Americans who have been diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International. Most of those diagnosed are under 30. Almost half are children.
“It’s rare that I talk to a family now where there isn’t some diabetes connection,” said Molly Dillon, Northern Nevada branch manager for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which funds Type 1 diabetes research internationally.
Unlike Type 2 diabetes (also called non-insulin-dependent or adult-onset diabetes), there is no treatment for juvenile diabetes, which occurs when a person’s pancreas produces little or no insulin.
In fact, researchers don’t even know the cause of juvenile diabetes, although some specialists believe certain genes may increase risk of getting the disease.
Nationally, the foundation funds approximately $180 million toward finding a cure for juvenile diabetes. The Northern Nevada Branch, which is located in Reno, raises more than $500,000 for research each year, Dillon said.
Most of the funding comes from JDRF’s annual Walk to Cure Diabetes, which will be held Oct. 12 in Reno. Dillon said she expects roughly 2,000 people to come out for the event. Eighty-six percent of proceeds will go to diabetes research.
The Wallaces formed a team, called “Scotty’s Steppers,” with a goal to raise $5,000 for JDRF. The 30-person team will sport T-shirts designed by Scott.
“So much of diabetes is done to you,” said Dillon, whose daughter was diagnosed with the disease at age 4. “This is a way for us to do something ourselves.”
Daily life for Scott and other children with diabetes is fairly normal aside from the routine shots. People with the disease can exercise. They can also eat candy and carbohydrates, as long as it is done in moderation and taken with the proper amount of insulin.
Like many people with the disease, Scott experiences highs and lows based on his blood sugar level.
When he’s low, Scott gets lethargic, disoriented and shaky. When he’s high, he gets emotional, argumentative and angry. At times, it can be trying for the Wallaces.
“It changes the whole family’s life,” Dillon said. “The hardest thing is there’s never a day off.”
A lifelong disease
The Wallaces know that Scott will probably end up in the hospital at least once a year. Scott has to carry a kit with prescriptions at all times. His mother, Barbara, keeps an emergency syringe in her purse in case Scott’s condition becomes so crucial that he can’t give himself an injection.
Scott has had to realize that, unless there is a cure, his diabetes will never go away.
Although Scott’s diagnosis has been life altering for the Wallaces, Scott has taken his diabetes in stride, Barbara said.
“To his credit, Scott never said, ‘Why me?’ He just took his diagnosis and has owned it ever since.”
For more information on the Walk to Cure Diabetes, check out http://www.walk.jdrf.org or call (775) 786-1881.
Warning signs of juvenile diabetes
— Extreme thirst
— Frequent urination
— Drowsiness, lethargy
— Sugar in urine
— Sudden vision changes
— Increased appetite
— Sudden weight loss
— Fruity, sweet or wine-like odor on breath
— Heavy, labored breathing
— Stupor or unconsciousness
If you think you or your child has diabetes, call a doctor immediately and drink fluids without sugar to prevent dehydration.
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If Israel and the United Kingdom are any indication, widespread vaccination will knock the pandemic down to … normal life. Something near.