LAWTON — Rebecca Dees worries about her children, often from the moment she wakes up.
It’s the life of a mother with two children with Type 1 diabetes, a frequently misunderstood disease.
“At four or five in the morning when I’m at work, I’m thinking, ‘As soon as they get up they need to check their blood sugar — I hope it wasn’t low because they played outside last night,’ or I’ll think, ‘Oh, the snack they have — I hope it wasn’t over their carb limit,’” Dees, who works at the Goodyear plant, said.
Over the past few years, Rebecca and Gary Dees’ children, Brooke, 14, and Braden, 11, have been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a lifelong disease in which there is a high level of sugar, or glucose, in the blood, according to the National Institutes of Health.
About Type 1 diabetes
Dees has grown frustrated by the people who assume her children developed the disease because they ate too much junk food or that they’ll grow out of it.
Type 1 diabetes in most people is caused when the body’s immune system mistakenly destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, according to the Mayo Clinic. It is not known what causes this reaction.
However, unlike Type 2 diabetes, there is no demonstrated link between lifestyle and developing Type 1 diabetes, according to the Harold Hamm Diabetes Center. Types 1 and Type 2 diabetes are vastly different in their cause, prognosis, and treatment methods.
Looking back, Dees sees that Brooke showed several symptoms, while Braden did not.
Doctors discovered that Brooke had Type 1 diabetes about two years ago during a doctor appointment about her allergies. Rebecca Dees had to work and asked her mother to take Brooke to the appointment. She didn’t anticipate that later that day, Dees’ mother would call her and tell her that they were admitting Brooke to the hospital. Brooke’s blood sugar level was more than 500.
“It was on a Wednesday — they told us if we had waited until Saturday, she would have been in a coma,” Rebecca Dees said.
About a year later, Braden was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at his wellness checkup. He was hospitalized for about five days.
Because Type 1 diabetes can start quickly and the symptoms can be severe, people who have just been diagnosed might need to stay in the hospital, according to NIH.
Since their diagnoses, each of Dees’ children have had to make lifestyle changes.
This past Halloween, Braden thought about not going trick or treating. He thought, “Why go when there’s so much candy you can’t have?”
Dees explained to her son that Halloween isn’t so bad — the candy comes in individual portions. She told him even though he might not be able to eat all of his candy in one week, he could have a piece every day for the next year.
Meanwhile, Brooke now has an OmniPod that delivers her insulin by remote and has no tubes or wires. It looks like a computer mouse and is attached to her body.
She played volleyball this past year, but she is hesitant to play again because the high school uniforms have short bottoms that would show the device. She worries other kids will stare.
These are a few examples of how much diabetes is a part of Dees’ children’s lives.
“It’s a total life changer,” Dees said. “It’s something I could never imagine would be so hard — because it changes everything.”
When her children start school, she meets with all of their teachers and takes bags of juice, crackers, and glucose tablets to each of their classes for them to have, just in case of an emergency.
Dees wishes that there were a pill her children could simply take to manage their illness. Rather, they have to check their blood sugar at least four times.
One small comfort Dees has is that, at least her children, after they’re grown, will understand how to help each other.
“Not that I would want either one of them to have it,” she said. “But it’s something that will bond them forever, and they know how to take care of each other.”
At a glance
For other people, these serious warning symptoms may be the first signs of Type 1 diabetes, or they may happen when blood sugar is very high:
At four or five in the morning when I’m at work, I’m thinking, ‘As soon as they get up they need to check their blood sugar — I hope it wasn’t low because they played outside last night,’ or I’ll think, ‘Oh, the snack they have — I hope it wasn’t over their carb limit.’”