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Dealing with diabetes in children

Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Seven-year-old Curtis Cummings gives himself an insulin shot at the Diabetes Association of T&T's Annual Diabetes Children's Camp.

Alvin Daniel always believed diabetes was an “old-people” disease, until his five-year-old son, Alvin Gabriel Daniel, was diagnosed with it about three weeks ago. “He was always tired, used to pee his bed a lot, used to drink a lot of water, but we thought that was normal,” Daniel said, in an interview with the T&T Guardian. He was speaking at the Diabetes Association’s (Datt) 13th Annual Camp for Children with Diabetes at the University of the Southern Caribbean, Maracas, St Joseph. Gabriel’s teacher complained to his parents that he was lazy and needed to go to bed earlier, Daniel said. “I bouffed him up for that and told him he shouldn’t be behaving like that in school,” he said.



Daniel, a photographer, was assigned to cover Datt’s 23rd Annual Symposium on Diabetes on June 15. Admitting he did not usually pay attention to what was happening at assignments, Daniel said, “What caught me was that little children could get diabetes and someone could be born with it.” After the symposium, Daniel said, he saw his son differently. “I found he looked like a sick, malnourished child.” He remembered hearing something at the symposium about drinking plenty of water. He began putting the pieces together. Two weeks later, one of his relatives died from complications of diabetes. “That came like a shocker. I said, ‘Something wrong.’” 


He googled “symptoms of diabetes” and found his son had every one. His wife cried when she realised Gabriel might be diabetic. At the San Fernando General Hospital, where Gabriel was tested, it was revealed he had Type 1 diabetes—a chronic illness caused by the body’s inability to produce insulin, a hormone which regulates blood sugar levels. “We thought that was the end: he can’t play, he can’t go to school, he can’t eat nice food. He’s so young and his life just gone,” Daniel recalled. But then Daniel got another assignment which enlightened him further about diabetes. “I got a job to do the diabetes camp, and that changed everything. “One of the first things I saw in the camp was a six-year-old giving himself insulin, and testing his own blood sugar.”
Daniel, who is 26 and the father of two, decided to join 25 children, all between seven and 19, for the entire camp. “I became normal about it, because I saw the children active, doing everything others do. The food here better than home,” Daniel recalled happily. 



Children living with diabetes 

The Cricketer
It was the quarterfinals of the T&T Cricket Board Under-17 Zonal Competition at the Queen’s Park Oval, and Romel Kimkeran, opening batsman and captain of the South-west Zone, was on 39.
He took his stance, knocked his bat on the wicket, looked up and focused on the ball. But as the fast bowler released it, Kimkeran’s eyes drifted—his sugar was low. After his helmet was rattled by a bouncer, he fainted, falling face-down on the pitch. His teammates rushed out with a sweet drink. Kimkeran picked himself up and went on to make 65. A Type 1 diabetic and a peer-counsellor at the diabetes camp, Kimkeran shared his story with the T&T Guardian. Now the captain of the Under-19 South-west Zone team, he said it was sometimes hard being a diabetic and leading a team. “Some players would say, ‘If he get sick on the field and we need him, what we would do?’ “But these comments only motivated him to do better. 



Ambition for Princess
“Move from her, she’s contagious and if she touch you, you will get diabetes.” Princess McIntosh, 12, a Type 1 diabetic and a participant at the camp, faced this humiliation in standard three.
Now in secondary school, McIntosh said the teasing has eased up because students seemed more educated. Speaking about her experience at diabetes camp, she said: “The first day I came, I met friends who went through similar things like me and who understand my feelings. It feels nice knowing there are others like me.” McIntosh said she loves children and wants to become a paediatrician.


Facts about Type 1 Diabetes
• It is a chronic illness caused by the body’s inability to produce insulin, a hormone which regulates blood sugar levels.
• As of 2010, there were more than 450 children with Type 1 diabetes in T&T
• It is most common in children, but can also develop in adults in their late 30s and 40s.
• Classical symptoms include: excessive urination, increased thirst, excessive eating and unexplained weight loss.
• Other symptoms are fatigue, nausea, blurred vision and yeast infection in girls.
• Type 1 diabetics require lifelong insulin therapy.
( From Medscape; Mayo Clinic; Nicholls, 2010, Ministry of Health)



Zobida Ragbirsingh, Datt’s president and a registered nurse, started the camp 13 years ago.  Known as “Aunty Zobida” and “Mommy No 2” by the campers, she said the last 13 years have been among her most fulfilling. “When they come on camp they don’t know how to test their sugar, don’t know how to inject themselves, don’t know how to manage their diabetes,” Ragbirsingh said in an interview at the camp. “They learn all about diabetes when they come here.” Testing blood sugar on time, storing insulin, measuring the dosage, filling the syringes, injecting themselves at the right spots, eating  the right portions and exercising regularly were among the skills all the children learnt, as well as nutrition, optometry and the physiology of diabetes.  


These diabetic children, Ragbirsingh said, could teach adults, who find it very difficult to manage their diabetes. “Our children could show the nation how painless it is to take insulin, how many times they have to test and how to manage themselves.” Pointing out that children are very receptive to learning at an early age, she said, “They will make a difference because they go home and tell their parents. ‘We don’t want that, we want this, this isn’t healthy.’” Ultimately, she said, she wanted to prepare the children to fight their own cause after attending the camp. As if their medical condition was not enough, psychosocial problems caused by society’s ignorance were among their biggest problems, Ragbirsingh said.


During group therapy, five campers revealed they had tried to kill themselves, she said. One boy had to change schools because of teasing. “Miss put me in the room, she say I can’t do sports because I sick,” the children would tell her. In light of this, Datt recently launched a Diabetes Education Awareness in Primary Schools (DEAPS). Diabetes manuals were distributed to standard three students and quizzes were set for them. Minister of Health Dr Fuad Khan has expressed willingness to make the programme nationwide, she added. 


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