I had some big, life-changing news exactly one month ago today. For a couple weeks before, I wasn’t feeling right. I was eating less, drinking more, and losing lots of weight. At school, I needed to take frequent bathroom breaks and go to the water fountain. When I wasn’t drinking anything for a while, my mouth got as dry as infield dirt on a hot sunny day. I had no energy and it was really hard for me to do the things that I could normally do with ease, like walk to and from school. All I wanted to do was sleep. Even my teachers noticed that my color was a little off and thought that I wasn’t right. We didn’t know it at the time, but these are all symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes.
My parents took me to the pediatrician and he quickly realized I was in a state called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). We rushed to Children’s National Medical Center in Washington. They put IVs in me, and I was in the ER for about 4 hours. We then moved to the ICU, where there were lots of kids who were very sick for different reasons. It was very stressful. I was barely able to sleep, and I had not eaten a single thing since a small dinner the night before. I was really, really hungry, but the medicines they were giving me had to work before I could eat. The nurses gave me movies to watch and checked in on me every half hour or so. In the middle of the night, I was able to move to a regular room, where I would stay for the rest of the weekend. I felt good knowing that I was being taken care of by doctors from one of the best pediatric endocrinology departments in the entire nation.
Type 1 diabetes (sometimes called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes) is a chronic condition where your body stops creating insulin and you cannot get energy from the food you eat. Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease where your body attacks the cells in your pancreas that produce insulin, the hormone that is needed to allow glucose (sugar) to enter the cells to create energy.
Type 1 diabetes is not caused by a bad diet or getting too little exercise. Actually, nobody knows why some people get Type 1 diabetes, but it has something to do with genes and something in the environment like a virus. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent Type 1 diabetes, and there is no way to cure it. Until scientists find a cure, I will have Type 1 diabetes all my life. (Read facts about Type 1 Diabetes at the JDRF website).
However, the good news is that Type 1 diabetes is pretty easy to control, but it takes a lot of work. Because you no longer make insulin in your body, you have to give yourself injections of insulin before every meal (and also one other time a day to make sure you always have a little bit on board). It’s also important to check your blood glucose several times a day. You do this by pricking your finger before mealtimes and before going to bed. The shots and blood tests are annoying, but they really don’t hurt, and you just get used to it. (Kids, if you’re nervous about getting a shot at the doctor, imagine doing it 4 times every day). Once you have your insulin, there’s nothing you can’t do or eat. Actually, the problems you can have from your blood sugar going too low are worse than having your sugar too high (I carry sugary snacks and an emergency glucagon shot in case I pass out from hypoglycemia).
There is a difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is much, much more common, and most people don’t know the difference between the two. You may see commercials on TV for diabetes medicines or special foods for diabetics. Those all refer to Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 means the body still produces insulin but the cells don’t use it as well as they should. At first, the pancreas makes more insulin to try to get glucose into the cells. But eventually it can’t keep up, and the sugar builds up in the blood. Type 2 can be treated with changes in diet and exercise, as well as other medications you see on TV, but it’s still not a good thing to have and there can be dangers if it’s not treated.
In America, there are 27 million people with Type 2 diabetes and another 86 million who are “pre-diabetic.” However, only 1.25 million have Type 1 (about 200,000 people less than 20 years old). 40,000 people are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes each year in the U.S.
Many famous people have Type 1 diabetes, including a number of pro baseball players. The most famous baseball player with Type 1 diabetes was probably Jackie Robinson. So, Robinson broke more than one barrier in becoming a major leaguer! Other Hall of Famers include Catfish Hunter and Ron Santo. Today, Sam Fuld of the Oakland Athletics has Type 1 diabetes and is very proud of it. (I am hoping to meet him next season and bring you a Matt’s Bats Chat). There also was a Toronto Blue Jays Type 1 diabetes club this past season (although some have moved to other teams): Mark Lowe, Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan all have it! Other celebrities include Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler and pop singer Nick Jonas. It’s pretty neat knowing that many baseball players and Hall of Famers have to go through what I go through.
Now, I am back to normal and learning how to manage my Type 1 diabetes. I can give myself my own injections now. I have to say that everyone at Children’s National Medical Center was great. Here’s an amazing fact: the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation donated the facility at Children’s National, so I will continue being treated at the Washington Nationals Diabetes Care Center. Knowing that these people were taking care of me made me feel much better. I’m also glad I have school nurses who can help me with all of my injections, and there are other kids at my school who also have Type 1 diabetes. I look forward to hopefully working with the Washington Nationals Diabetes Care Center at Children’s National Medical Center to do fundraising and raise awareness, and also with the JDRF, which is an international foundation that is all about research and treatment of Type 1 diabetes. Click the links above if you want to learn more about them or make a donation. In the past, I have used my blog and Twitter to raise money for other charities that are important to me, including over $30,000 for a lung cancer charity over the past few years.
I am the same person I was before this. You don’t have to treat me any different than before, but it’s important to me that everyone know about Type 1 Diabetes.