Diabetes diagnosis leads to life changes for teenager
FARR WEST – During a trip to Hawaii this past Spring, Amber Wykstra noticed her 15 year-old son, Cooper, was drinking a lot of water.
“I mean a lot,” she said.
He was also using the bathroom more than usual and, even though he was exercising, Wykstra said she had noticed her son was losing weight a bit faster than normal.
Wykstra’s husband was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 12, so she started seeing red flags.
“When we arrived home from our red-eye flight, my husband did a blood test and found that his (Cooper’s) sugar was critically high,” she said. “We immediately dropped off the luggage at the front door and took him to the hospital.”
It was there that their suspicions were confirmed. Cooper had type 1 diabetes.
“We arrived at the ER at Ogden Regional and were a little nervous about what to expect due to COVID. We didn’t know if, as parents, we could both be there with Cooper due to the COVID protocols and so that added to our stress,” Wykstra said.
The hospital was able to make accommodations to admit Cooper, who happened to be its first juvenile diabetes patient in years.
“We were told that the hospital had recently added a dietary team and so they were able to treat us,” she said. “Had they not taken these steps, we would have been sent to Primary Children’s or Timpanogos. We were so grateful they could treat us.”
Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes, is an autoimmune disease thought to have a genetic component. For people with this type of diabetes, insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas are destroyed by accident from the body’s own immune system, so basically the body stops producing insulin, according to the JDRF. Although the cause is not fully understood, to date there is no cure and people have to rely on extra insulin delivered into the body for the rest of their lives in order to survive.
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is different than type 2 diabetes, which is usually diagnosed later in life. It too can have a genetic component, but often is a result of lifestyle behaviors and can be controlled through diet and exercise. Symptoms include increased thirst, dry mouth, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss, itchy or dry skin and yeast infections.
“The hardest thing about having your kid diagnosed with diabetes is the cost of the medical supplies needed to sustain life,” Wykstra said. “Our insurance journey was ridiculous and it is extremely frustrating. They wouldn’t approve the insulin requested by the doctor’s so we had to adjust our treatment based upon what the company would approve. Without insurance, the supplies themselves would cost around $1,500 per month, not to mention if you wanted to purchase a pump or CGM. Insanity.”
Wykstra believes Cooper’s diabetes may have been triggered by a COVID-19 infection in January.
“I don’t know for sure, but Cooper did have COVID-19 in January and the virus could have been the viral trigger,” she said.
“Cooper now has a continuous glucose monitor that he wears on his arm. The CGM communicates his glucose levels to his phone so that he know where he is at,” Wykstra added. “This information is also available to us as parents we can monitor how is is doing.”
Cooper was initially treated with insulin shots, which meant five finger pokes within a 24-hour period to check his blood sugar, as well as five injections per day. But now he wears a pump that delivers insulin directly into his bloodstream. The pumps give him a base dose continuously which he can increase on his own after meals. He must count his carbohydrates carefully so he knows how much insulin he needs.
Wykstra said Cooper is passionate about music and the guitar and plays in a local band. He also had dreams of becoming a Navy diver, but may not be able to fulfill that dream due to his illness.
“Type 1 diabetes is a life changing diagnosis and will affect the entire family,” she said. “It is both mentally and physically challenging for not only the kids, but also the caregivers. If you see any symptoms in your kiddos, act quickly. Take advantage of all the resources, including social workers and counselor that the medical team can provide. You will need the support. Don’t allow it to overwhelm you. It is manageable with a good plan.”