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Pumped up for life

Today is World Diabetes Day; local girl has been living with chronic disease most of her life

Today is World Diabetes Day; local girl has been living with chronic disease most of her life

November 14, 2008|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - It's only about the size of an iPod, and for 13-year-old Rachael Peck of Berkeley Springs, the insulin pump she carries is as comforting as a song. Since the age of 5, Rachael has been a Type I diabetic. The chronic disease requires her to constantly maintain her blood-glucose levels throughout the day. For a diabetic, a missed meal or uneven blood sugars could spell disaster. That's why Rachael wears the insulin pump. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), Type I diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. Type I, which was once known as juvenile diabetes, is a condition in which the body does not produce the insulin needed to convert food into energy. As an active teenager, Rachael makes a point to tell others about diabetes. Until last year, she regularly gave a speech to her classmates at Warm Springs Middle School explaining her diagnosis and what could happen if her blood sugars were out of whack. "I would let them know if they noticed that I wasn't acting like myself that maybe something could be wrong," she explains. She says she doesn't need to give the speech anymore because now that she's in seventh grade, she's been going to school with most of the kids all her life. Once, however, she says her lesson came in handy. When she was in fifth grade, a student noticed that she had her head down. Her sugar was too low. Her classmates' attention enabled Rachael to get medical attention. In addition to watching what she eats, exercise is an important component in maintaining her diabetes. Rachael joined a gym in Berkeley Springs and has encouraged other kids - regardless of whether they are diabetic or have a weight problem - to lead a healthier life. "It feels good to help somebody else," she says. An episode leads to a diagnosis Rachael's mom, Crystal Peck, says her 5-year-old daughter was enrolled in day care when Crystal started to notice some of early signs. A licensed practical nurse at Tri-State Community Health Center in Hancock, Crystal says she noticed that her daughter was drinking more water than usual and was also incontinent. After an episode at school, Rachael was taken to her doctor for a basic finger prick reading of her blood glucose. Rachael's blood sugar was 576. (Crystal says for her age she should have a blood-glucose reading of 70 to 90.) Rachael was still alert, amazing for such dangerously high blood glucose readings. "Your body can get used to your blood sugars being so high," Crystal explains. Immediately, Rachael was taken to Winchester Medical Center. There she was put on an IV to help rehydrate her body and was given the official diagnosis of Type I diabetes. She was in the hospital for five days and wasn't released until she was able to give herself insulin shots. Rachael says she can still remember that trip to the hospital. "I was sure something was wrong, but I didn't know what. Because other kids weren't always thirsty like I was," she says. Other than the excessive thirst, Crystal says Rachael didn't exhibit any of the other symptoms of Type I, such as weight loss. "With most diabetics, you see the weight loss. But Rachael was a chubby kid," she says. "... It didn't match what the other kids looked like. She wasn't typical except for drinking excessive amounts of water." Further testing revealed that Rachael's pancreas, which produces insulin, didn't work and she also had thyroid problems. When the results came back, Crystal says Rachael cried. "She said, 'What else is broken?'" Crystal says. After being a nurse for 21 years and educating people about diabetes, Crystal says when the diagnosis came home, it was tough. "It was quite unsettling. I help people with diabetes, and suddenly I felt like I didn't know anything about diabetes," she says. Maintaining her diabetes Even when she was 5, Crystal says her daughter gave herself her own shots. "She wouldn't let me do it," she says. In fact, Crystal says, Rachael was too young to read the numbers on the syringe so at school teachers would have to help (at the time the school didn't have a nurse). At home, Crystal says there weren't that many changes to make her life more healthy. Her diet had to change, making sure to include more vegetables and replacing white potatoes with sweet. Exercise is important, as well, and Rachael joined a gym. Rachael says she's noticed a change since having an exercise program. "I feel a lot better," she says. "I feel like I'm awake during the day. And I feel like I have more energy." Last year, Rachael was a member of the school track team. She says it was difficult because she couldn't run all the time. "The other kids didn't understand that if my sugar was too high or too low, I couldn't do it. (They thought) I didn't want to run," Rachael says. The gift of life At the age of 6, Rachael received her first insulin pump as a Christmas present. The pump delivers insulin to her body 24 hours a day through a catheter under the skin. There are three types of insulin doses, according to the ADA: o Basal rates, a regular, ongoing drip of insulin that mimics the body's normal supply o Bolus doses, which cover carbohydrate consumption in meals o Correction or supplemental doses To help regulate her blood glucose levels, Rachael tests her blood 10 times a day. After she eats, she has to calculate how many carbohydrates she has consumed and give herself insulin in accordance. Diabetes can be an expensive chronic disease, even after insurance. Insulin costs $78 per month for 3 bottles. Supplies for the insulin pump cost $150 for three months. Test strips cost $78 for a month's supply. Before she received a new pump last year, Rachael says she had to do all those calculations in her head. But something good came out of that daily routine. Crystal says Rachael is good in math class. It was watching her blood glucose levels and making sure she was eating on a regimented schedule that was the hardest for Rachael. Before she had the pump, so that her blood sugar didn't get low or too high, mealtimes and snacks were extremely important. Not eating on time could be a disaster. But thanks to the insulin pump, which drips a consistent amount of insulin out all day to imitate the pancreas, punctual mealtimes are less critical. Rachael says after each meal, she has to enter the number of carbs she consumed into the pump; it automatically gives her the right amount of insulin. She carries with her a water bottle to class and sometimes has a snack with her in case of emergency. Throughout the day, she makes sure to check her blood glucose levels. "I can be like just like everybody else. I just have more responsibility than most kids do," Rachael says. The future Crystal says she recently relived the memories of Rachael's early diagnosis when a child about 6 came into the clinic where she works. The child had the same symptoms Rachael had and Crystal was worried. "I thought, 'Oh, no it's happening again,'" she says. She immediately told the child's health care provider about her hunch. Crystal was right. Soon after the child's treatment, Crystal says she received a thank-you card. Rachael also takes time to talk to newly diagnosed kids, helping them to learn about their own insulin pumps and how to use it. What Rachael wants people to know is that she's just like any other teen her age. She's a rabid Pittsburgh Steelers fan and she likes hanging out with her friends and family. "I'm no different than anybody else," she says.

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For more information

American Diabetes Association's Web site, www.diabetes.org, is filled with facts about diabetes: o Take the Diabetes Risk Test o Find out more about Type I and Type II diabetes, pre-diabetes, gestational diabetes o If you've been recently diagnosed, find out more information specifically for you o Ask an expert about diabetes o Find how you can take part in Winning at Work to help prevent co-workers from developing diabetes or manage their diabetes o AMA also has a My Food Advisor to create dishes and give you recipes
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