DHS students help each other live with diabetes
Growing up is hard enough, but when you have a disease like diabetes, it’s easier when you know other kids in your school community who are facing the same challenges.
Six diabetic students at Douglas High School have recently joined teacher Randy Green in a support group that visits Valley middle school health classes to tell what it’s like to live with the “high maintenance” disease
Green, 46, was diagnosed with Type II diabetes three years ago. He had the four classic symptoms: unexplained weight loss, extreme thirst, blurry vision and unusual tiredness.
“I lost 18 pounds in two weeks and didn’t know why,” he said. “I also had this insatiable thirst that I can’t even describe. I’ve since learned that it is the body trying to flush out the sugar.”
Green said another of the symptoms, the blurry vision, is actually caused by excess sugar in the eye moisture.
“There is so much sugar that light actually refracts off of it,” he said. “When I went to the doctor, I didn’t know what I had that could be causing all these symptoms. I was scared.”
His wife, Karen Green, teaches health at Carson Valley Middle School. After Randy was diagnosed, Karen invited him to her classes to speak about diabetes and demonstrate the actual blood sugar testing that he had to learn to do to himself.
As more and more students at DHS became aware of Green’s diabetes, he said they “came out of the woodwork” to tell them that they, too, had diabetes. That is how the support group came about.
Currently six students comprise the group – David Gates, Jeanne Corbit, Jeniffer Mayer, James Berston, Randy Halcomb and Dennis Hoskin. This semester was the first time the group visited the middle schools. Both Greens had praise for the students.
“Any time you bring in guest speakers, it’s more powerful,” Karen said. “My students learned so much by actually seeing high school students who have to deal with the disease.”
The DHS group also visited Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School to speak to Miki Trujillo’s health classes.
Diabetes is a disease in which the body either doesn’t produce, or doesn’t properly use insulin, the hormone needed to convert sugars and starches to energy the body can use.
The cause of diabetes is still unknown, for the most part. Many things are known to contribute to acquiring the disease – genetics, obesity, lack of exercise – to name a few.
There are two types of diabetes. Type II diabetes is a metabolic disorder, where the body either doesn’t make enough, or properly use its insulin. This is the most common form of diabetes, affecting 90-95 percent of the diabetic population.
Type II patients don’t necessarily have to take insulin injections, but must monitor their blood sugar levels daily. When the sugar level gets high, indicating the body is not processing the sugars and starches, Type II diabetics must either take an insulin shot or stop eating for many hours to give the body a chance to bring the sugar level down.
“When my levels get high, I stop eating for seven to eight hours,” Green said. “The thing about diabetes is, carrying a high sugar level will affect different people different ways. You may get too tired, for example. If you carry high levels for an extended time, you can go into some of the more serious effects of the disease, like renal failure, blindness, heart attack, stroke. Diabetes is a strange disease – you don’t look any different, but you are.”
The other type of diabetes, Type I, is an auto-immune disease in which the body simply doesn’t produce insulin. This is more commonly called juvenile diabetes, and occurs in 5 to 10 percent of all diabetes cases.
Type I diabetes usually starts in childhood and early adulthood. Patients must take multiple daily insulin injections and closely monitor their blood sugar levels every day.
DHS senior Jeanne Corbit, who has Type I diabetes, said she enjoyed talking to the middle school students and particularly appreciates having the support group as a resource in her dealings with diabetes.
“It is a neat group. You can talk about things that no one else understands because they don’t know what it feels like to have diabetes,” she said.
Corbit was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when she was 12. Her day begins with a blood test to see where her sugar level is. In the past she might have had to give herself several insulin shots in a day, but she is currently using an insulin pump, which releases the hormone gradually, affording her a more even sugar level throughout the day. She is a straight-A student, active in sports and dancing.
“I control the disease. I won’t let it control me,” she said.
For children – in the midst of growing up, living what is basically a life of indulgence, birthday parties, fast food and holidays that are candy-filled – having diabetes poses a particularly steep challenge.
“Diabetes basically boils down to what you want to do or are disciplined to do to control it,” Green said. “It’s a constant struggle, and getting the kids together gives them an opportunity to share their successes and failures with an empathetic crowd.”
Randy plans to continue to take the DHS group to the middle schools and said they will be revisiting both CVMS and PWLMS next semester to talk to a new group of health students.
“I was pleased at how they have jumped at this opportunity to talk to the middle school students,” he said. “They put together their presentation and did a great job.”