Kim Findlater is what some refer to as a helicopter parent, constantly hovering nearby, watching that her child is safe and out of harm's way. But this style of parenting wasn’t one she chose - rather it was thrust upon her when her seven-year-old daughter Arielle was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, also called type 1 diabetes, in late September 2013. It was a disease she and her husband never saw coming.
“I always thought it was genetic,” Kim said. “Or something brought on by a poor diet, it wasn’t anything we ever worried about.” But looking back, she can now recognize there were signs.
Arielle would come home from school, drink copious amounts of water and frequent the bathroom. Kim figured it was because she wasn’t allowed to leave during class and was therefore not drinking enough during the day.
She had also become very skinny. Her appetite was large, so her thinness didn’t worry her parents. They thought she was just going through a growth spurt.
And she was tired. A three hour nap in the middle of the day that resulted in her waking up looking fatigued and not her vibrant self had her parents taking her to the doctor. Blood samples were ordered and with a blood glucose level at 16 she was immediately admitted to the hospital where she would stay for the next seven days.
Her body had been feeding off itself and she had to endure countless needles to get her glucose levels balanced. Dehydrated and constipated, she also had to drink a disgusting potassium drink or she’d end up in the intensive care unit at the hospital.
“We bribed her with gifts to get her to drink that vile stuff,” Kim said. “Between that and blood samples every half hour, the poor kid proved to have stronger nerves than us.”
Her diagnosis of type 1 diabetes came as a shock, and her life, and the lives of her family, would forever be changed.
Already busy with Arielle, and another daughter Isla, who was 18 months old, Kim was about to restart her own small business as a nail technician after maternity leave. But she had no idea how much would change until she lived the reality of the new diagnosis. A crash course on the disease she knew little about would start it off.
Type 1 diabetes can happen to anyone, it’s not preventable and you can’t pre-test. It’s a chronic condition that usually appears during childhood or adolescence in which the pancreas doesn’t produce insulin, a hormone that enables us to get energy from food.
Fortunately, through medical research, great strides have been made and it’s no longer a death sentence. Insulin can be administered to the patient in an attempt to keep them at the normal levels our bodies are supposed to regulate naturally. That was easier said than done. Kim would have to monitor everything Arielle consumed as well as any physical activity she participated in, and then calculate how much insulin she’d need to bring her sugar levels to a livable state.
For the first year anywhere from four to nine shots were given a day, and she initially had to monitor her blood glucose levels throughout the night. Arielle now wears a device that automatically checks every five minutes. “That’s an extra $350/month just to sleep,” Kim said. “Even with a good medical plan, there are many extra expenses.”
Another cost has been Arielle’s peer interaction. Once a social butterfly, she now appears to many children as broken and isn’t included.
“She used to be so easygoing,” her mother said. “She’s more sensitive now. Blood sugar levels influence that. Some kids can be cruel - any sign of weakness and they feed off it. She’s often found in a quiet corner reading alone rather than playing with others.”
Kim can’t drop Arielle off at Brownies, a birthday party or a sleepover like most parents. She now has to remain close by in case something happens. And being available at a moment's notice has obviously affected her work, making it impossible to run her business. “I have lots of idle time so she can have as close to a normal and fulfilling life as possible.”
Being the primary caregiver to their daughter’s daily needs, Kim’s husband has taken on the role of his wife’s supporter as well as the one to handle the administrative side of things. “If we need to buy a pump, David’s the one who will find out which one we should get.”
Fundraising has resulted in some tremendous improvements for the people living with type 1 diabetes and their families – the pump being one of them.
This Sunday Arielle and her family will participate in the TELUS Walk to Cure Diabetes to raise money for research to better treat, cure and prevent it.
If you’d like to support all the people affected by this disease, get more information and donate, please visit JDRFca.DonorDrive.com – Arielle’s team.
While a bit of a grey cloud hangs over their heads when it comes to their beautiful little girl’s future, the Findlaters are optimistic knowing any improvements resulting from this research will directly impact her life and the lives of over 300,000 Canadians living with type 1 diabetes. Delivering a practical cure by 2025 is the goal, but with enough help, it could be even sooner than that.
Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at LoriWelbourne.com