MY WORD: Students learn to live with type 1 diabetes

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By Duanne B. Puckett

As many as 3 million Americans may have type 1 diabetes, often referred to as juvenile diabetes. The rate of type 1 diabetes incidents among children under the age of 14 is estimated to increase by 3 percent annually worldwide.

Those statistics hit home with Shelby County Public Schools students Bryan Stapleton and Jacob Lisby, who both have experienced two of the warning signs – extreme thirst and frequent urination.

Jacob said he also remembers “sitting around and doing nothing; felt I couldn’t,”

Said Bryan: “I was sick a lot and didn’t feel like eating.”

Together they are battling the disease that could not be prevented and which includes dependence on injected or pumped insulin for life.

Bryan, a fifth-grader a Heritage Elementary, was diagnosed as a first-grader.

People with the disease must carefully balance insulin doses with eating and daily activities throughout the day and night. Both take their lunch to school, as Jacob put it, “to stay away from sugar and so I can count my carbs [carbohydrates].”

Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation is driving research to improve the technology people with T1D use to monitor blood-sugar levels and deliver the proper doses of insulin, as well as research that will ultimately deliver a cure.

During a recent lunch period, Bryan ate yogurt, cheese and crackers that he brought from home. He also drank fat-free chocolate milk and low-fat ice cream from the school cafeteria because, he said, “I don’t want to be seen as an outcast, and I want something that tastes good.”

As soon as he finished, he opened a pouch on his belt and pumped insulin into an embedded port in his thigh. “It’s always there,” he said, touching the area. “I just switch it out every three days.”

Jacob takes shots every time he eats and another at bedtime. As a senior at Collins High School, he is seen as a mentor to Bryan during their visits every Thursday at Heritage.

However, watching them interact, both mentor each other. “The difference in us from other kids,” Bryan said, is “... is we have to take shots,” Bryan finished.

Both inherited the disease and were somewhat shocked when they were diagnosed. “Then I met people with it and realized they were normal,” Jacob said with a smile.

Said Bryan: “I have learned to not let anyone tell you you’re different because you’re not.”

The school district’s health coordinator, Traci Early, teamed up the students because she believes the support system can help both endure the lifestyle changes and challenges associated with the disease.

In a college reference letter for Jacob, Early, a registered nurse, wrote, “Jacob accepted this challenging task without hesitation and with a strong desire to help....He has been dependable and has not missed a session....Jacob has been able to help this young student with his self-esteem, goal-setting, managing his diabetes and decreasing his stress and anxiety.

“Jacob is currently preparing this student for the challenges of entering 6th grade next year and I feel this student will have a smooth transition with little alterations in his blood sugar management as a result of the effort and insight Jacob has provided.”

Bryan said he appreciates Jacob’s friendship because “It’s cool to meet someone else with it and know what they’ve gone through is what I am going through.”

Meanwhile, Jacob works on exercising. Bryan participates in walks to raise money to find a cure.

“I started four years ago and raised five thousand dollars that first year,” he said.

To which Jacob acknowledged, “Oh my gosh! That’s awesome!”

Despite this constant attention, people with T1D still run the risk of dangerous high or low blood-sugar levels, both of which can be life-threatening. 

“One time at home, all of a sudden, I was walking down the hall and passed out,” Bryan said. “My brother found me and took me to my bed.”

Jacob shook his head in sympathy and said, “I’m lucky enough that mine has never been that low.”

Mary Tyler Moore, the actress who serves as JDRF International chair, was reported as saying: "Both children and adults like me who live with type one diabetes need to be mathematicians, physicians, personal trainers and dieticians all rolled into one.”

Jacob and Bryan know just what she means, but Bryan smiled and said, “I make straight As in math because I have to know it to live.”

The boys have common interests in video games and University of Kentucky basketball.

Jacob did play ball on a school team, and Bryan is starting on a church league. He pointed to the necklace around his neck and said he got it from a friend when he was baptized.

 “It also helps me with my diabetes because I know God is there to help me,” he said.


Duanne B. Puckett is the public relations coordinator for Shelby County Public Schools.