Learning to live with diabetes

Sarah Olson was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and has used it as an opportunity to educate others

From left: siblings Haley

From left: siblings Haley

When Pat and Mike Olson took their family on a trip to Disneyland, they thought their daughter Sarah’s exhaustion was due to the heat. Though she was constantly thirsty and complained that the water tasted strange, they didn’t think anything was wrong.

They didn’t realize Sarah was showing symptoms of an autoimmune disease.

When the symptoms came back a few months later in September 2011, along with dramatic weight loss, they took the 13-year-old Clayburn Middle School student to the hospital. After explaining her symptoms to a nurse, they were warned that Sarah might have Type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables the body to get energy from food. The onset of Type 1 diabetes is not caused by diet or lifestyle, and is often confused with Type 2 diabetes, also called adult-onset diabetes. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to liver disease, kidney failure or disease, blindness, nerve damage that can result in amputations, and even death.

Sarah was diagnosed as diabetic and spent 10 days in hospital undergoing tests and repeatedly given needles. The Olsons were given binders full of information about managing Type 1 diabetes, but it was overwhelming.

Sarah had to learn to manage her diabetes, beginning with four shot of insulin a day, plus poking her finger about 25 times daily to test her sugar levels. Sarah has since gone down to about 10 finger pokes a day and has switched to using an insulin pump –  a device that releases the necessary amount of insulin into the body 24 hours a day through a catheter placed under the skin.

Sarah has learned to manage her diabetes, but is aware of the problems that arise from not taking care of her health. She must closely monitor the carbohydrate levels of everything she eats and drinks. As a competitive cheerleader who trains three times a week, Sarah must closely monitor her blood sugar, which can fluctuate during and after exercise. Due to many misconceptions about Type 1 diabetes, people don’t always understand Sarah’s specific needs.

“So many people don’t understand diabetes and say, ‘What did you do to get that?’” said Mike.

In order to learn more about Sarah’s disease and find support, the family became involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). Sarah is now a youth ambassador for the organization, giving presentations to various groups, hoping to raise awareness and funds that will help researchers find a cure.

“I want to tell people about the signs and symptoms just in case their child or a friend has been showing symptoms – they should go to a hospital.”

Mike and Pat said watching Sarah manage her disease so well and her commitment to raising awareness has been amazing.

Sarah will be raising money for JDRF research at the organization’s TELUS Walk to Cure Diabetes. The Fraser Valley walk will be held in Abbotsford on June 9, at the Abbotsford Exhibition Park.

Registration is at 11:30 a.m. and the walk will get underway at 2 p.m.

The fundraising goal for the Fraser Valley walk is $242,000 and $1.08 million across B.C.

You can learn more about diabetes at www.jdrf.ca, and donate to the walk or Team Sarah on the website. For more information about the Fraser Valley walk, contact Mark at 604-320-1937 or email mhosak@jdrf.ca.