Photo: Whitney Brown, MD, Palmetto Health-USC Pediatric Endocrinology
Palmetto Health recognizes November as National Diabetes Month by sharing the story of a young patient. Julia Bland’s story may be a little different from some or sound familiar to others. Whitney Brown, MD, director of Palmetto Health-USC Pediatric Endocrinology helps children and teens in the Midlands learn to navigate living with Type 1 diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1.25 million people in the United States, like Julia, have Type 1 diabetes and 40,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.
Julia’s story started with her entire family having a stomach virus during Christmas break in 2013. Julia then got a respiratory virus and noticed that she was increasingly thirsty. As a competitive dancer, she needed to drink an entire bottle of water after each of five or more dances during a competition.
“When Julia told me she could not quench her thirst, my entire conversation with a friend whose son had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes six months earlier came rushing back,” said Julia’s mother, Amber Bland. “We went to Dr. Bruce Cope, our pediatrician.” A finger stick test came back positive and Julia went straight to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital.
“Type 1 diabetes is a disorder where you leave the hospital with your child and a hormone that could either kill or save your child, depending on her blood sugar level,” said Amber. “You get a crash course to get you up to speed about the impact of sleep, stress, diet and exercise on diabetes. It is frightening to know you could harm your child and have immediate consequences if you do not constantly monitor her levels.”
“You feel isolated from the moment of diagnosis,” said Julia. “Learning you’re going to have this for the rest of your life forces you to grow up immediately. I used to cry about getting a shot and now I have to give myself up to seven injections every day to adjust my blood sugar.”
When people ask how she can give herself a shot, she says, “Because I want to live.” Julia is one of about 25 students at River Bluff High School in Lexington who have Type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone people need to get energy from food. Type 1 diabetes strikes both children and adults and its onset is not linked to diet or lifestyle. There is no known cure and living with Type 1 diabetes is a constant balancing act.
Julia is an Advanced Placement and Honors student and last year served as Young Miss Teen South Carolina. At Palmetto Girls State, she was elected state treasurer and wrote a bill to get continuous glucose monitors covered by a consumer tax on soda. Julia wears a continuous glucose monitor, but recognizes that Medicaid does not cover the $20,000 annual cost.
The Blands partner with the Palmetto Chapter of JDRF, formerly called the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, to help families whose children are newly diagnosed. They also want to make sure people recognize the symptoms early. “People don’t get the nuances of what it takes to manage this disease,” said Amber. “There’s always a level of worry that people around your child may not know what to do in a crisis.”
Development Coordinator Beth McCrary of the Palmetto Chapter of JDRF wants to provide families of newly diagnosed children with education and resources to help them manage the disease. “Families may be confused, scared or overwhelmed and we want them to know they are not alone,” said McCrary. “We provide a ‘Bag of Hope’ with supplies and educational materials and we have mentors who can help families navigate living with Type 1 diabetes.”
For more information about Palmetto Health-USC Pediatric Endocrinology, visit PHUSCMG.org.