Diabetes creates daily challenges for students

Graphic by Colin Ryan

The pancreas: a small, seemingly benign organ located in the stomach. Many will not pay this vital structure much attention unless forced to fill out a sheet labeling organs in a class. Others might only see it when staring at a fuzzy photo of the stomach on a biology test, quick to forget what and where the pancreas is once they hand in the paper. However, for those with diabetes, this organ and its functions play a large role in their lives.

Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Endocrinologist at the Ohio State University Justin Indyk explained that in Type One diabetes, insulin producing cells within the pancreas have been mistakenly destroyed by the body’s immune system, leading to the inability to produce one’s own insulin. This lack of insulin is dangerous because it is a protein required for survival, he said. 

Treatment for Type One and Type Two diabetes can look different, Indyk added.

“The treatment [for Type One] is to give and replace insulin, just like someone with a vitamin deficiency needs to take the missing vitamin,” Indyk said. “Because [it] is a protein, it must be given by injection.”

Meanwhile, in Type Two diabetes, Indyk said that the individual’s body still produces insulin but cannot use it effectively. Injecting insulin is often used in treatment, he added, but Type Two diabetes can also be managed with exercise and proper nutrition.

Type One diabetes is more prevalent than some may think, as over one million Americans live with the condition, he said, about 200,000 of them being under 20 years old. 

Sophomore Ava Foster said she was diagnosed with Type One diabetes at 7 years old after her mother began recognizing indicators of diabetes while on vacation.

She added that these symptoms included frequent use of the bathroom as well as losing a drastic amount of weight within a short period of time.

“The first week of first grade, I went to the doctor where they diagnosed me with diabetes, and I stayed in the emergency room for a couple of days to regulate my levels,” Foster said. “I came back and my life was completely different.”

However, Foster said, her life did not change as drastically as some who have diabetes. 

“A lot of people’s parents put them on a diet,” Foster explained. “Because I was so young, mine decided not to do that.”

Foster acknowledged that dealing with diabetes requires a good memory, as she has to remember to bring all her medical supplies on vacation or take her bag of equipment to school, tennis practice and other places she goes. 

Junior Ava Joseph was diagnosed with Type One diabetes when she was 12 years old and also said that treating the condition requires remembering many things.

“I start every day by checking my blood glucose monitor,” Joseph explained. “I check it about 35 times a day.”

Additionally, Joseph said that she has to inject insulin before every meal as well as take insulin before going to sleep to ensure her blood sugar does not drop overnight. 

  Injecting insulin as both Joseph and Foster do is referred to as insulin therapy, used to treat all who have Type One diabetes and some with Type Two, Indyk said. 

“Insulin is a very effective treatment for Type One diabetes but can be a lot of work to make sure the dose is correct,” he said. “It requires regimented eating, exercise and monitoring of glucose level to keep glucose levels in the right target range.”

Foster said that having either extremely high or low blood sugar is one of the worst aspects of the condition.

“When my blood sugar is high, I get extremely nauseous, but when I’m low, I feel shaky and like I can’t control anything,” she explained. 

Joseph added that having her blood sugar dip at inconvenient times makes it difficult to juggle having diabetes and the other aspects of her life.

“I had to sit out of an entire first half of an important soccer game because my blood sugar was low,” Joseph said.

However, Joseph said that she doesn’t find dealing with diabetes to be extremely difficult, adding that it only takes a few minutes several times throughout the day to check her sugar level or inject insulin.

Foster said that dealing with diabetes has made her have to mature faster than others.

“I’m pretty independent when it comes to [diabetes],” she said. “It’s taught me how to be an independent person and learn how to handle myself.”

Joseph also noted that she has become more responsible while managing this condition. Discipline is necessary in order to successfully take care of diabetes, she added.

“I’m thankful because with diabetes, I can do anything,” Joseph said. “There’s nothing I have to restrict myself from every day. I just need to take the time and take care of it.”