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No Limits: Parenting A Child with Juvenile Diabetes

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Editor’s Note: November is National Diabetes Month. According to the American Diabetes Association, 29.1 million Americans had diabetes in 2012, and over 18,000 youth had diagnosed juvenile diabetes (Type 1 diabetes). Today, J&J dad Jim writes about the challenges and surprises he’s faced parenting a child with Type 1 diabetes.

I will always remember Monday, March 27th, 2004. It was the day that our oldest son, Jimmy, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (Juvenile Diabetes).

He was 4 years old, and up to that point had been a typical mischievous 4-year old. The day before our son said he was feeling “upside down and sideways.” So, we took Jimmy to the pediatrician. We now know the “upside down and sideways” was a 4 year olds description for dizziness caused by high blood sugars.

On that day, the doctor sent us directly to the emergency room, where we learned that Jimmy had juvenile diabetes. Our first response was denial. We thought the doctors were crazy. Diabetes did not run in our family – how could our child have it?

Over the next week we would be introduced to meters, shots, carbs, and ketostixs. We had to become a diabetic family, and adapt many of our routines. We still had hopes there was a mistake, and he would “grow out of it.” But juvenile diabetes is not something kids grow out of.

Early on, it was difficult to explain certain things to Jimmy about the changes happening in his life. How do you help a 4 year old understand why we stuck his finger 5 times per day? How do you make it easier to tell your child, “No, you can’t have that cake or soda at your friend’s party, have these carrot sticks instead.” I knew each needle stick hurt, but it was necessary for him to remain healthy. Even though it broke my heart, I tried to remain positive and remind our son that he was “brave and inspiring.”

Diabetes changes the whole family and in the beginning, there were scary possibilities to face. My wife and I were in constant fear that our other children were at risk for developing juvenile diabetes. There were many times we tested our other children’s blood sugar simply because they were thirsty.

As we braved this new world, the support from other families dealing with juvenile diabetes was amazing. Everyone opened up their homes and their hearts to provide training, guidance, and support. We learned how a family copes with diabetes, and we still provide support to each other. (Thank you Chris, Patty, Margaret, Jonathan!)

Over time, we had to come to the realization that Jimmy was going to have diabetes until there is a cure. Our son started high school this year, and he is still mischievous, just at a different level. We switched to a pump, so he has to endure fewer shots. We still hold out hope for a cure.

While diabetes has changed our family forever, it hasn’t stopped Jimmy. In fact, what we’ve learned is that even with diabetes, a child has no limits. During one family vacation, Jimmy really wanted to go SCUBA diving. We made the proper plans, worked with his health care provider, and he had a wonderful time. He can do anything he wants!

Jimmy is a gifted student at school, and is faced with the same challenges as all the other ninth graders. He wants to be an engineer, so he can build things – maybe even an artificial pancreas.

As I look back at the past and ahead to the future, I am sure our son will remain “brave and inspiring” as he continues to grow and realize that he has no limits.

Jim Smith is currently the QA Director of External Supply for the Janssen Supply Chain. He has been with Johnson & Johnson for 13 years, and he and his family enjoy outdoor activities with the family at the beach.

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