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'It's ... part of my life'

Williamsport boy, family deal with challenges associated with Type 1 diabetes

Williamsport boy, family deal with challenges associated with Type 1 diabetes

April 07, 2008|By JANET HEIM

Nine-year-old Tate Hopkins said he was "ticked off, annoyed and upset" when he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes two years ago.

"Now it's an average day - part of my life," he said.

Tate, the son of Chip and Nancy Hopkins of Williamsport, was diagnosed about two years ago after a doctor's visit to remove a splinter. Nancy Hopkins shared her concerns with the doctor about Tate using the bathroom a lot during the night, one of the symptoms of diabetes.

That led to testing, a diagnosis and the upheaval of the family's flexible lifestyle.

"The spontaneity is gone because everything has to be planned," Nancy Hopkins said. "We're always interrupted by monitoring. Now when we think about food, everything is a number."

Type 1 diabetes develops when the pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone used by the body to change glucose in the blood - which comes from food and drinks - into energy. It also is known as juvenile diabetes, since it is most common in children, adolescents and young adults.

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A person with Type 1 diabetes uses injections or an insulin pump to put insulin into his bloodstream, estimating the amount required based on food intake, activity level and stress.

Hopkins said Tate probably has the healthiest diet in the family, which includes brother Jack, a freshman at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va. Hopkins said it's a relief Tate likes salad.

Tate, a third-grader at Hickory Elementary School, and his mother depend on nutrition labels so Tate can make choices about what to eat. A recent visit to the Pennsylvania Dutch Market at Longmeadow Shopping Center in Hagerstown led to disappointment. Most food items on display are homemade and don't have nutrition labels. Not knowing the number of carbohydrates per serving made the food too risky for Tate to eat, and they left emptyhanded.

Tate has to test his blood sugar at least eight times a day, three of those times during school. For that reason, he has a 504 plan at school. This allows Tate to stop the clock when he's taking a timed test if he needs to test his sugar levels.

In January, Tate received an insulin pump, which eliminated the need for the five insulin shots he was receiving daily.

The goal is to avoid low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or high blood sugar, both of which have complications. Nancy Hopkins said when Tate's blood sugar gets low, he gets shaky and has vision problems. He doesn't feel well when his sugar levels are high.

Hopkins said there's a big learning curve with diabetes. It's not just a person's diet that affects blood sugar level. A person's activity level, emotions and stress also have an effect. For instance, exercise generally lowers blood sugar levels. But Hopkins learned that Tate's blood sugar levels rise during his Little League games due to adrenaline. Roller skating, however, lowers Tate's blood sugar levels - because of the exercise - so Hopkins planned a roller skating party for Tate's recent birthday.

Hopkins said Tate is not upset when his blood sugar tests low, because he gets to enjoy a small portion of foods that are not normally permitted - like birthday cake or a mini candy bar - to achieve a quick boost in blood sugar.

"Birthday cake is a treat," Tate said.

As Tate and his parents wrestle with the changes his diabetes has meant for their family, they also embrace the opportunity to get involved.

Tate is signed up to walk in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Walk To Cure Diabetes on Saturday, April 19, in Frederick, Md. Hopkins said this is the first year the fundraising walk has been held in Frederick and it is the closest venue to Washington County.

Walk To Cure Diabetes is JDRF's biggest fundraiser, and 86 cents out of every dollar goes to research, Hopkins said. JDRF is the leading charitable funder and advocate of Type 1 diabetes research worldwide, according to its Web site.

The three-mile walk will be held at Frederick Community College. Registration is at 8:30 a.m.; the walk begins at 10 a.m. It is one of more than 200 JDRF walks worldwide.

The Hopkinses try to maintain a sense of humor through the daily rigors of diabetes. The name for Tate's walking team - Tate and the Tater Tots - exemplifies that.

Nancy Hopkins said 26 people have signed up to raise money and walk with Tate. She feels blessed with the support of friends, family and coworkers.

"It says a lot about their willingness to fight diabetes and back Tate," she said.

For more information on juvenile diabetes or to donate to the walk, go to www.JDRF.org or call Hopkins at 301-582-9366.

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