TULSA — It took a stint in the pediatric intensive care unit for 4-year-old Taelem Rodriguez’s parents to learn he was suffering from type 1 diabetes. But his mother, Vicki, doesn’t want that to be the case for other children. "I would tell people to definitely look for urinating a lot and drinking a lot. They don’t have to wait until they start losing weight,” she said. Like Taelem, a startling 50 percent of Tulsa area children on SoonerCare or Medicaid diagnosed with type 1 diabetes get the news while suffering a life-threatening complication of the disease called diabetic ketoacidosis. "We most frequently see DKA in people who are newly diagnosed,” said Dr. David Jelley, Hille Chair of Diabetes and medical director of the Tulsa branch of Harold Hamm Oklahoma Diabetes Center. The disease is the leading cause of death in children with type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes. A type 1 diabetic’s body does not produce insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar and other nutrients into energy for daily living. A lack of awareness of the early symptoms of type 1 diabetes appears to be the reason for the startling number of children who are diagnosed only after suffering ketoacidosis, Jelley said. The average rate of children with diabetic ketoacidosis at the time of type 1 diabetes diagnosis is 25 percent to 30 percent, he said. "Parents may not have as ready access to health care. They may not have transportation or they may have difficulty finding a doctor who accepts SoonerCare,” Jelley said. "And maybe they are not aware of early type 1 diabetes symptoms of increased thirst and frequent urination.”
‘It was scary’Diabetic ketoacidosis happens when the body doesn’t have the insulin required to convert the sugar to energy. Blood sugar rises and the cells begin to break down fat for energy instead. This produces toxic acids known as ketones, which severely affect kidney, brain and cardiac function, he said. Taelem had begun to lose weight even though he was eating more than ever, said his mother. She first thought he had a minor bug and would get over it. But when he began to lose weight and become lethargic, she rushed him to the emergency room. "He would eat, then he would be lethargic and lay on the couch. This is a kid who all day long is just playing. It was silent in my house. It was scary,” Rodriguez said. Within hours, he was in the pediatric intensive care unit, she said. She said she wishes she had known the early symptoms of type 1 diabetes and could have helped her son before he got so sick. Now he takes insulin shots and eats a low carbohydrate diet, she said. "I didn’t know anything about diabetes before,” Rodriguez said. "I just want to say I’m really proud of the way Taelem has handled everything. He’s taken it as a big boy.”
• A similar campaign in northern Italy in 1992 saw a 75 percent reduction in the rate of diabetic ketoacidosis among children.
• The campaign is expected not only to reduce the condition among children and save lives, but to save on average $11,000 per hospitalization.
• Most diagnoses of Type I diabetes occur in January and February.
Type I diabetes symptomsAll begin suddenly.
• Excessive thirst
• Bed wetting
• Frequent urination
• Weight loss despite increased appetite
Diabetic ketoacidosis symptoms
• Nausea and vomiting
• Deep breathing or shortness of breath
• Decreased level of consciousness Source: OU-Tulsa Pediatric Diabetes Center