Kenny began his young life like any other kid. He was a fun loving, sweet and rambunctious child. However, between 2012 and 2014, Lisa began noticing subtle changes in his behavior. At first, Kenny began exhibiting sleep issues such as sleepwalking and night terrors. During the night, he was also using the restroom and asking for something to drink far more than usual. Being so exhausted from not resting well, Kenny would often sleep until 10 or 11 a.m. the next day.
He also started to display what Lisa referred to as “naughty” behaviors like crying for no reason, being non-compliant, and acting very negative. Lisa started to notice that these behaviors appeared more often when Kenny was hungry, and that is when she started to see a correlation between acting out and a lack of food. Thinking it was just normal low blood-sugar levels (Kenny’s grandmother and sister both have hypoglycemia), she made sure to keep snacks accessible especially at times when they were more active or on vacation. Once he ate, Kenny would perk up and return to his normal self.
In the summer of 2014, Kenny contracted three different viruses, which was very odd because he had rarely been sick since he was born. In August, Lisa remembers Kenny coming to her and saying, “I feel like I can’t get enough to drink and my head hurts.” By this time, his sleepwalking and night terrors were at their worst. Looking back now and knowing what she knows, Lisa understands that this is probably when his blood-sugar was extremely high. Kenny would tell her “I just feel weird. Just hold me mommy. Just hold me.”
At the end of August when Kenny began vomiting for two days in a row, his pediatrician again thought it was yet another virus. Lisa had to rehydrate him very slowly, one teaspoon of liquid at a time, so that he could keep fluids in his tiny little body. Little did she know that this slow form of rehydration was actually diluting the sugar in his blood. He then started to feel a little better.
Feeling some improvement, but with his weight down nearly 12 pounds, Lisa also noticed that Kenny didn’t have bad breath, even after not brushing his teeth for two days while he was sick. In fact, she stated “his breath had a sweet smell.” Yet another oddity, but not enough to raise a red flag.
The following week, Kenny was still not feeling great, and he was urinating and drinking far above what is considered ‘normal’. Growing more and more concerned, Lisa made the decision to take her little boy directly to the hospital in hopes of finding an answer. On the way, she called a friend whose daughter has Type I Diabetes (T1D). Throughout her research of Kenny’s symptoms, this disease kept popping up and it all came full circle for her…maybe he should be checked for T1D. Her friend agreed – get to the hospital immediately.
On the way to the hospital, Kenny needed to use the restroom. Lisa found a hotel and made the stop where she had to hold him up because he was so weak. Before leaving, Kenny begged her to get some water from the fountain in the lobby. He drank “like he had been in the Sahara Desert.” Then he immediately began to vomit.
Lisa got him back in the vehicle and drove him directly to the South Trail Fire Station on Daniel’s Parkway. She insisted that they start an I.V. When they did a finger stick and checked his blood-sugar, his level was 575 (a normal blood sugar would be 80-150), and that was after having not eaten for two days. An ambulance transported Kenny and his mom to Health Park Hospital.
During the examination, a student doctor leaned in and put his face in front of Kenny. He immediately noticed his ‘sweet breath’. Kenny was quickly placed in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). They began an IV therapy of just fluids. Had they began administering insulin at this point with his high blood-sugar level it would have caused his brain to swell. Dr. Jehaimi, Pediatric Endocrinologist, came into the ICU room and told Lisa that she “saved her son’s life,” and that “Kenny was two or three hours away from death.” That day, Kenny was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D).
Even though they were all in shock, this is when Lisa and her family received their crash course in diabetes education. During Kenny’s five-day hospital stay, they all learned about symptoms, warning signs and treatments. Although there is no cure for this disease, it can be controlled through a strict diet, a healthy lifestyle and regular monitoring of blood-sugar levels.
According to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, (JDRF), T1D is a serious and stressful disease to manage. However, because treatment options are improving every day, people with T1D can lead normal, productive and inspiring lives. T1D is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. Only 5 percent of people with diabetes have this form of the disease.
Although the cause of T1D is currently unknown, it’s thought to be linked to environmental and genetic factors. When a person has T1D, the body does not produce insulin. The body breaks down the sugars and starches eaten and turns them into a simple sugar called glucose, which it uses for energy. Insulin is a hormone that the body needs to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body. With the help of insulin therapy and other treatments, even young children can learn to manage their condition and live long, healthy lives.
Know the warning signs! Understand that symptoms may occur suddenly and can include extreme thirst, frequent urination, drowsiness or lethargy, increased appetite, sudden weight loss, sudden vision changes, sugar in the urine, fruity, sweet or wine-like odor on breath, heavy or labored breathing, and stupor or unconsciousness. If you or someone you love exhibits one or more of these symptoms, call a doctor immediately.
The most important thing that Lisa wants others to walk away with is this – DO NOT be afraid to ask for a finger stick even if the symptoms just look like a flu or stomach bug. She wants everyone to be aware of the warning signs of T1D, especially during the flu season when people can be easily fooled. Knowing to ask for a simple finger stick could make all the difference and save someone’s life. She stated that “this is a real disease that can be treated if caught in time.”
If you ever have the opportunity to meet Kenny, you will notice he always carries a small backpack. Inside, he keeps a glucagon pen that is only used in the event that he is unconscious and can’t take any food or liquids orally. There are also two insulin pens in case the pump he wears fails, an iPhone with a battery pack and a Dexcom continuous glucose monitor that is wirelessly connected to a sensor on his arm. Everyone in the family has an app on their phone so that they can monitor Kenny’s blood-sugar at any time.
He currently has all of the technology associated with T1D available, but hopes to eventually acquire an alert dog and a bionic pancreas. Fundraisers are being planned in the near future to help with the cost of these additional resources.
You will also always see Kenny’s camouflaged lunchbox nearby. Inside he keeps his favorite low blood-sugar snack – chocolate milk. It is important for him to have quick access to a drink or food when his blood-sugar levels fall.
Living with T1D is a constant balancing act for both Kenny and his family. They are all very proactive when it comes to T1D education. Lisa is ready and eager to talk to anyone who wants to know more.
The future looks very bright and full of promise for this young man. Today Kenny is an active, smart, football loving kid that participates in the Classical Conversations Homeschool Program. His faith and spirit are strong. Even though he has the occasional setbacks, he stated “I am just a normal kid who does normal things.”
To learn more about Type 1 Diabetes or future fundraising events, please contact Lisa Tracy at 239-839-0656, email@example.com, or like her Facebook page. The JDRF website at www.jdrf.org is also full of valuable information and resources.