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Diabetes can't keep young activist down

April 04, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

CLEAR SPRING - Korey Atherton loves to bounce on her trampoline at her Garrison Hollow Road home east of Fort Frederick State Park.

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The third-grader at Clear Spring Elementary plays baseball and takes piano, ballet, tap and jazz dance lessons after school.

"People look at Korey and think she's just fine," said her mother, Kendra Atherton. "But the day-to-day life that Korey has to live isn't the normal, everyday life of an 8-year-old."

Korey has diabetes and is an activist in the campaign to find a cure for the disease.

"Diabetes doesn't keep you back from everything. Me, I have a busy schedule," said Korey, who was diagnosed with Type One diabetes on Jan. 31, 1996.

"Diabetes doesn't control you. You can control your diabetes."

In October, Korey will lead a team of friends and family on a Frederick County diabetes walk to raise funds to find a cure for the disease.

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She recently collected 5,000 signatures, and met with U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-6th, in an effort to persuade Congress to spend more money on the cause.

Korey's petition joined the more than 3 million other signatures collected by 1,500 diabetics who attended the Diabetes Awareness Day rally March 19-21 in Washington, D.C.

Korey attended the rally with her mother and her father, Terry Atherton.

She met Miss America 1999 Nicole Johnson and Olympic swimmer Gary Hall, both diabetics, and formed friendships with diabetic kids from all over the country, Korey said.

She also attended seminars on diabetes, in which she learned facts that she memorized like her multiplication tables.

- Diabetes kills one American every three minutes.

- Diabetes kills four times more people than AIDS and breast cancer combined, but the U.S. government spends six times more money on AIDS and breast cancer research.

- The government spends $40 billion treating people with diabetes, but just 1 percent of that amount trying to cure the disease.

Korey got Bartlett to commit to joining other members of Congress who have signed a letter to President Clinton requesting increased funding to find a cure for diabetes, she said.

She showed him how she pricks her fingertips with small needles at least five times each day to test her blood sugar level.

Korey's fingertips look like pin cushions, and her stomach is bloated from insulin injections.

"The insulin acts like a key that opens up the cells," said Kendra Atherton, a nurse with the Washington County Health Department's Home Health Agency. "It allows the sugar that's broken down from the food you eat into your cells so you can use it for energy."

In Type One diabetics, the insulin producing cells of the pancreas have been destroyed so insulin is not available to open the doors of the cell for glucose to enter. Cells then have no energy, and blood glucose levels rise.

The normal blood sugar level for a person without diabetes is 70 to 110 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), Kendra Atherton said. Korey's blood sugar has risen as high as 600 mg/dL, she said.

Korey's vision sometimes blurs, she gets confused, and craves food and drink when her sugar level skyrockets, she said.

When her sugar level dips too low, Korey said her legs get weak and she has to stop whatever she's doing and eat.

"It takes away from my time on the (baseball) field," she said.

Terry Atherton wakes up at 4 a.m. daily to check his daughter's sugar level, and wakes her for a snack if it's too low.

Complications from diabetes include heart and kidney failure, so Korey must watch her fat intake, monitor her cholesterol, and eat a certain amount of food at set times to coincide with her insulin injection schedule.

Her routine cannot vary, Kendra Atherton said.

"If you're hungry or if your meal times aren't on time, you're in trouble," she said.

Korey gets at least three shots of insulin each day.

She can administer her own shots, but "I prefer for my parents to do it," she said.

Korey Atherton will have to live the rest of her life with the disease. She said she plans to continue fighting for funding to find a cure.

"Unfortunately, chronic illness makes you wiser than your years," her mom said. "It definitely makes you more mature."

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