Editor’s note: This post is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or physician before treatment of any kind.
Your child is lethargic. She normally zips around the house with her siblings, literally bouncing off the walls and giggling, but today she had almost no energy. She refuses to eat her favorite dinner and a few hours later, she’s throwing up. She is sick off and on throughout the evening, so the next morning you take her to her pediatrician. As you assumed, the pediatrician suspects your daughter has picked up the stomach bug that’s been going around and tells you to keep an eye on your daughter, keeping her as hydrated as possible.
As the doctor prepares to leave the room, he asks, “Any other concerns or questions?”
Your response to this question could save your child’s life.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the body ceases to make insulin, the hormone necessary for the body to properly utilize glucose, and it can often have symptoms similar to a common virus. While the exact cause of type 1 diabetes cases is unknown, there are several suspected causes including genetics, environmental factors, and viral infections. With little-to-no insulin, a person can go into Diabetic Ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition in which the body essentially becomes toxic. Diabetic Ketoacidosis, also known as DKA, quickly leads to a coma and then death, particularly in children who usually have a very quick onset of type 1 diabetes.
This year, the diabetes community was devastated by the death of 6-year-old Kycie Terry. According to the family’s website, Kisses for Kycie, “In January, 2015 Kycie began to complain of a stomachache and headache. After 5 days she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and a blood glucose level of 1048, normal is 90-110. She was LifeFlighted to Salt Lake City and suffered two seizures and fell into a coma. After reviewing an MRI, doctors told Josh and Jamie that the high glucose caused Kycie’s brain to swell and ultimately resulted in severe brain damage. Kycie was not expected to survive, and if she did it was likely she would have little to no quality of life due to the severity of her injury.” Five months after Kycie’s diagnosis, she passed away at home with her mom and dad by her side.
Following Kycie’s death, several similar stories circulated social media: children whose doctors (and parents) didn’t recognize the symptoms of DKA, instead believing the child had a common virus. In Kycie’s situation, her parents sought medical attention when Kycie was initially ill, and Kycie was diagnosed with strep throat, not type 1 diabetes. In cases such as this, the delay of an accurate diagnosis can be devastating and deadly.
What happened to Kycie and other children, teens, and young adults is very personal to me. At the age of 23, I went to the emergency room because I was disoriented, breathless, shaky, and cold. I had lost a lot of weight (30 pounds) in a short period of time, was weak, tired, depressed, and always thirsty. A blood test revealed that I had type 1 diabetes. My blood sugar was 700 (seven times the normal number), and I was experiencing DKA.
Had I waited just a few more hours to seek medical attention, I probably would have died. Many of the nurses who cared for me during my subsequent five-day hospital stay told me I was “lucky to be alive” and in hushed whispers, as I lay in bed in the intensive care unit, told my husband I was a “very sick woman.” Because of this experience, I’m committed to spreading awareness of type 1 diabetes, particularly among parents.
Advocates of “test one drop” share a simple and critical message: when your child is ill, ask your doctor to test “one drop” of the child’s blood. Say something along the lines of: “I’ve read about the symptoms of type 1 diabetes, and they strongly mirror the symptoms of viruses. To give me peace of mind, can you please check my child’s blood sugar?”
Do not hesitate to be insistent, particularly because of how easily type 1 diabetes can be misdiagnosed as just a common virus. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and every second counts.