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.