Coping with a lifetime of type I diabetes is one thing. Learning that your child has the disease, too, is way harder to handle. Just ask Debbie Bonney, 37, a mom of two who lives in Manchester, Maryland. She learned three years ago that her son Brady, now eight, has diabetes, too.
“That day we were sitting in the mall after I took Brady and my 10-year-old daughter, Ella, to the movies and something told me to test Brady’s blood sugar,” she says. “I had noticed Brady was drinking a lot and he had to go to the bathroom several times during the movie and, while I think I did it more to ease my mind, I was still shocked to see that his levels were high.”
She called her pediatrician right away. And though Brady spent five days in the hospital right after that appointment, luckily, his type 1 diabetes was caught in its early stages. An added bonus: Brady jumped right in and learned as much about diabetes as a five-year-old can, including quickly learning how to do a finger stick.
“Ever since he got out of the hospital, Brady tests his blood sugar himself,” Debbie says. “And while he can draw up his injections, he can’t give them to himself just yet, but I know the day he learns how to do that is right around the corner.”
The family has learned their share of advocating for themselves as well. For example, after a year of using larger needles, they decided to try the smaller ones on Brady after Debbie’s dad (who is in pharmaceutical sales) suggested the change.
“I was skeptical about using smaller needles because I thought the insulin wouldn’t get in right away,” Debbie says. “But we wanted to try them on Brady because he had such little arms and legs.”
Debbie then asked Brady to draw a picture of what he thought or hated about his injections. “I was blown away when I saw his drawing,” she says. “It shows how much happier he was with the small needles.”
Today, diabetes is a huge part of this family’s life but it doesn’t define them.
For example, Brady and Debbie take four shots a day (Ella and Brady’s dad, Scott, have become expert on giving the injections), one 24-hour dose at bedtime that stabilizes the blood sugar and then one at each meal (a fast-acting insulin that works on the spot).
Still, there are challenges—and lots of pre-planning—to keep Brady’s levels stable.
“Brady can eat whatever he wants at meals since he gets the proper insulin but snacks are tough,” she says. “He can’t grab a granola bar and then end up hungry and reach for fruit because we have to watch his carbs and make sure his blood sugar doesn’t get too high. If he’s extra hungry, he needs to eat a carb-free snack like a hard-boiled egg, beef jerky or cheese, which isn’t the most exciting for a boy his age.”
Simple things, like overnights at a friend’s house, present definite challenges, too.
“When Brady went on a sleepover, I worried the whole time,” Debbie says. “He tested and called us and we talked to the parents and they texted us his levels. Luckily his sugar was at a good level, but I was still nervous.”
In addition, Brady is also a very athletic kid, which can pose potential hazards. For example, Brady has to eat before practice because his sugar levels could go too low after practice. Then again, after sports, he’s hungry and the adrenaline of a game can raise his blood sugar, too.
“For Brady, life is different,” she says. “He has to test and have a snack, but he really can’t just eat what he wants or he has to have more insulin.”
Even post-game drinks need to be monitored. “Brady can have the light Gatorade, but not the regular Gatorade because it has 21 grams of carbohydrate and that’s enough for a snack,” she says. “So when the team hands out things like that, I usually switch his real fast so he can have the lighter option and a snack.”
No matter the mother-son diagnosis, in the end, this active, fun-loving family lives by their all-important credo.
“We do have to take care of ourselves, which requires a lot of work, care and attention,” Debbie says. “But we’ve always been determined to make sure diabetes doesn’t run our life.”