Students living with diabetes

Angelina Rodriguez, 12, prepares to inject herself with insulin at Wallace Middle School. She and fellow student Roly Jimenez, 12, are the only two students at the school with Type 1 diabetes. Meeting in the nurse’s office every day helped the two forge a friendship. (Photo by Kim Hilsenbeck)

By KIM HILSENBECK

Middle school can be rough.

The pressures of school, tests, social interactions, family life, self-esteem issues, acne and hormonal changes can make middle school seem downright scary.

For two Wallace Middle School students, Angelina Rodriguez and Rolando “Roly” Jimenez, both 12, and both living with Type 1 diabetes, their middle school experience is compounded by managing a serious disease that requires extra time, effort and coordination.

“It’s been pretty hard,” said Angelina, who was diagnosed only a month ago. “I’m new to this and I really don’t know what to do.”

District-wide, Hays CISD Director of Student Health Services Ruth Roberts said there are about 30 students with Type 1 diabetes (out of about 14,600 students). She estimates that about 15 have Type 2; that number is harder to pin down since those students are generally not checking in with the nurse every day.

Because there is no known cure for Type 1 diabetes, people like Angelina and Roly need to take insulin injections for the rest of their lives.

“You’re stuck with it. They haven’t found a cure yet,” said Roly.

Taking the medication – technically a hormone – by mouth isn’t an option since stomach enzymes interfere with the insulin.

Angelina and Roly must also maintain blood-glucose levels using regular blood tests and eating properly, as well as getting plenty of exercise. They also have to watch what they eat.

“I eat more vegetables and more fruits now,” Angelina said.

These two pre-teens test themselves for blood sugar levels several times a day. They come to the school nurse’s office daily. Sometimes they need to eat a snack in class if they start feeling like their blood sugar is low. They count carbs and write what they eat in a notebook, then use a formula to convert that into the dosage of insulin they need.

During a recent visit with the pre-teens at Wallace, Angelina determined her dosage based on what she ate – a hamburger and an apple – then prepared her syringe, flicking it gently.

“You have to make sure there are no air bubbles,” she said.

She then stepped into the bathroom to inject herself with insulin.

Roly, who was diagnosed at age four, hasn’t let his condition slow him down, even though he wears a glucose monitoring device and insulin pump nearly all the time.

“I just have to check myself before I play outside. If I’m playing baseball or football I have to take it off,” he said, referring to his insulin pack.

Roly plays baseball, football and basketball. Research shows that being physically active is a key component of living with Type 1 diabetes. Regular exercise helps diabetics achieve more stable blood glucose levels.

Angelina is only about a month into her diagnosis so it’s still a bit overwhelming, especially waking up at 2 a.m. to check her blood sugar level.

And while both are managing their diabetes, with plenty of support from family and the school nurse, Karen Hermann, occasionally they experience the highs and lows known to most diabetics.

Some warning signs for elevated glucose include increased thirst, blurred vision, fatigue, nausea and difficulty breathing.

On the other side, low blood sugar has its own symptoms such as sweating, shakiness, hunger, dizziness, pale skin, irritability, rapid or irregular heart rate and headaches.

Roly has been taken to the hospital several times with extremely high blood sugar level – near 500 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). He said his normal range is between 70 and 200. The ideal range for non-diabetics is between 70 and 120.

Hermann said as a nurse, it’s her job to make sure the students’ rights are observed.

“They can get out of class whenever they need to, if they feel weird. They can get another kid to walk them to nurse because you don’t want them to pass out in the hall,” she said.

She also puts a notice on the back of their IDs showing they have diabetes.

“I don’t remember having diabetic kids in the first years of nursing here at Wallace,” Hermann said of her 18 years with the school.

What would Hermann want people to know about diabetes?

“It could happen to anybody and it can throw your world upside down in a second,” Hermann said.

What message would Angelina and Roly want people to know?

“Even though you have diabetes, or something different, you can still live like a normal person,” he said.

What is the hardest thing about having diabetes?

“I wish you didn’t have to give yourself shots,” Angelina said. “But it’s not really that bad. It’s scary at first, but once you get used to it, it’s not that scary.”

Angelina feels lucky to have found Roly – having someone else who knows what she’s going through and seeing how he’s managed the disease for the past eight years gives her some comfort.

“And we’ve become friends,” she said.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that affects blood sugar levels in the body. It can be a very serious issue if unchecked or untreated.

There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 is when a pancreas is no longer capable of producing insulin – a hormone that helps our cells absorb glucose (sugar) from our blood. Type 1 diabetes is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes, juvenile diabetes or early-onset diabetes.

Generally, the disease develops in early childhood or adolescence. About 10 percent of all cases are Type 1. Some people may refer to this type as insulin-dependent diabetes, juvenile diabetes or early-onset diabetes.

With Type 2 diabetes, the body still produces insulin, but the liver and muscle cells do not respond correctly to it; this is called insulin resistance. As a result, blood sugar does not get into these cells to be stored for energy. When sugar cannot enter cells, high levels of sugar build up in the blood, creating hyperglycemia.

In many cases, this type of diabetes can be reversed or cured with diet and exercise.

Check with your medical service provider if you or your child displays the following symptoms:

• Frequent urination

• Always thirsty; drinking a lot of water

• Blurred vision

• Fatigue

• Nausea

• Sweating

• Shakiness

• Hunger

• Dizziness

• Pale skin

• Rapid or irregular heart rate

• Fatigue

• Difficulty concentrating

• Headaches

• Irritability

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