On most days, Kari Seekins is on the sidelines of a soccer field or basketball court watching her athletic 11-year-old daughter Allie compete or practice with her highly-competitive teams. In school, she's a top student whose adorable good looks and outgoing charisma already have boys swooning on Valentine's Day. "A kid like Allie looks perfect and does everything great," says Kari, 44. "No one knows what she has to do to get there."1
Allie has type 1 diabetes, diagnosed when she was 5. And to get where she "looks perfect" requires an almost incessant focus on maintaining Allie's blood sugar levels. "It's a constant juggling act to keep her numbers good," Kari says, "and there is not a second in the day I am not thinking about it."
Allie must think about every carbohydrate in every morsel she puts in her mouth to make sure her blood sugar doesn't go too high. Kari and husband Derek, of Hawkinson, Washington, carefully monitor Allie's blood sugar and insulin therapy for dips and highs — on constant alert during school, while Allie plays sports, and when she is sleeping.
Many nights, Allie's blood sugar dips and she is awoken by Kari or Derek to have some juice.
"If you forget about type 1 diabetes you will be in the hospital," Kari says. "It's so encompassing, it's a relentless disease."
Yet despite her worry about the possible dire complications from type 1 diabetes, such as loss of vision, falling into a coma or even death, Kari has never tried to curb Allie's indomitable spirit. And, Kari says, her daughter has never let diabetes "define her."
"She believes in herself and that's what makes me happy," says Kari. "She wears her insulin pump and she lets it show and that to me is the most important thing. “
"As a parent of a Type 1 diabetic, my biggest concern was her trying to hide it," Kari continues. "Her not being embarrassed, being so comfortable in her own skin and taking ownership of it makes me really happy."
This summer, Allie will live and play with other kids with type 1 from July 31 to August 4 at the Chris Dudley Basketball Camp2, a week-long overnight camp for children with type 1 diabetes, thanks to winning a scholarship the camp gifted to DiabeticLifestyle. (Dudley is the first person to play in the NBA with type 1 diabetes.)
Allie says she is "super excited" for camp and being surrounded by other kids with type 1 diabetes. Says Allie: "No one will say, 'What is that? Why are you poking your finger?"3
Before she was diagnosed at 5, Allie, who already was skinny, looked thinner than usual despite an inordinate hunger. "She ate everything in sight," says Kari. Her stomach hurt, her thirst excessive, and she was making frequent trips to the bathroom.
These symptoms led to a doctor's visit on Nov. 19, 2010, when a test revealed Allie's blood sugar at a dangerously high 900. She was immediately admitted to the ICU.
The news caused Derek to cry, says Kari. "And I'd never seen him cry." While Kari was initially calm for a few weeks, she became overwhelmed upon learning more about type 1 diabetes.
"I cried at least once a week for the first six years, sometimes every day," Kari says. "You're so scared for your child."
After using the Animas followed by the Omnipod glucose pumps, Allie now uses the t:slim X2 made by Tandem, which she usually wears on her upper buttocks, the only place on her lithe body with some fat.
In 2014 Allie switched from pricking her finger to check her blood sugar levels up to eight or more times a day to a Dexcom G5, a continuous glucose monitor that she wears on an arm, a leg or her stomach. The Dexcom sends Kari frequent updates on Allie's sugar levels to her iPhone7 or iPad.
"The tool that made it a million times easier is the Dexcom, it's is a life changer," says Kari. "You feel in control because you can see her blood sugar."
Kari texts Allie reminders through the school day. "I have to be in constant communication with her and say, "I see you're rising, you have to give yourself two units (of insulin), you need to come down," says Kari.
"If I see a 60 (a low) I get really nervous and if Allie hasn't acted, I need to call the school and say, "can someone make sure she has juice?'"
At the start of each school year, Kari meets with school staff to go over diabetes management. Allie carries Skittles and each classroom has a juice box for lows, which can put Allie in a bad mood.
During the night Kari continues to monitor Allie's blood sugar, waking up at least once. "If you go to sleep, your kid can wake up at 50 and have a seizure," says Kari. "You are always adjusting. I am super vigilant, I am super crazy about it."
Kari's vigilance continues at every sports practice and game, as type 1 diabetes presents many challenges for athletes since it can either cause a blood sugar low or a high, depending upon the type of exercise, according to JDRF.4
Since exercise affects blood sugar, one must learn how to adjust how much more ¬— or less — insulin and carbohydrates to take in during activity, according to Steven Griffen, M.D., senior vice president of research at JDRF.
If not properly monitored, Griffen says, low blood sugar created by exercise can lead to seizures, passing out or, even death.5
Allie started playing soccer at age three and is now a member of a select team ranked second in Washington State in her age group.
Allie recalls being in the finals of a soccer tournament three years ago when her blood sugar was low, at 60. Derek was on the case and ran across the field to give Allie some glucose tablets.
"It was 1-1 and really intense," Allie says. "I had glucose tablets in my mouth when I scored the winning goal.”
Allie is now gearing up to score some points with her fellow type 1s at the Chris Dudley Basketball Camp. "I'm really excited to go," says Allie, "and to spend time with a bunch of people going through the same problems as I do."