Diabetes Blogs

Diabetic Ketoacidosis in Kids: A Mom's Loss Begins a Courageous Battle

Second in a three-part series.

The time bomb went off. No one is clear how it happened but all of a sudden two parents found themselves in a hospital room nervously watching and praying for their 16-month-old child. Somewhere in the not-too-distant-past, a diagnosis was missed. Since everyone was told not to worry, everyone went about their business. 

Unbeknownst to the family members, their daughter's blood sugars were rising as the insulin production declined. In this precarious condition, the outcome depends on where the patient is in her Diabetes Ketoacidosis (DKA). (DKA a serious complication of diabetes that occurs when the body produces dangerously high levels of blood acids called ketones because it can't produce enough insulin.) Some get better after a stay at the hospital; others are not so lucky.

Little Reegan’s story is well known in the diabetes community. Her mom took her to the doctors she thought could help when Reegan's behavior started to change. A little girl who loved to giggle suddenly stopped smiling. Acid reflux? Virus? Flu?  "Give it time... it will correct itself….," Reegan’s mom was told. But it didn't. In a heart-wrenching 6 weeks, the baby fought through 20 procedures and plenty of pain. Finally when her little body couldn’t handle any more, Reegan passed away. Undiagnosed type 1 diabetes.The death certificate read: heart failure. But we all know differently now. With a blood sugar over 1200 at the time of her death, diabetes was the culprit.

Reegan Oxendine

A family forever changed. Reegan’s mom knew it didn't have to end this way. She knew her child's death could have been prevented through greater awareness and education about type 1 diabetes. She vowed to do what she could to make sure it never happens to another child again. Six months later, she recalled what someone had whispered in her ear at Reegan farewell:  "We will start Reagan’s Rule to make sure other needless deaths are prevented."   

She enlisted people to help her in her mission to prevent diabetes from being misdiagnosed.  A law, perhaps. Something to make people stand up and take notice. It’s not easy to change the world. Hard enough to get a new law on the books but even tougher knowing that all the hard work still wouldn't bring her daughter back to life. Still, she continued with her cause. 

Reegan’s mom is a spiritual woman. She has a strong faith in God and was absolutely convinced that a new law would make a difference. An inner peace filled her heart and told her something much bigger was in play here. Something bigger that no one could predict.  When God is at the helm, she thought, that's enough to move mountains—even when not everyone is on board. 

The bibllical story of David and Goliath is well known in many faiths. It's the story of a young boy with only a slingshot able to slay a giant. Like Reegans mom, David had faith in God. In the family's home state of North Carolina, she faced a giant. She knew getting a law passed would be an uphill battle even though it was a simple enough concept—a law that would somehow educate others and prevent diabetes misdiagnoses.Reegan's mom suspected what happened to her family had happened to others. Voices that had gone unheard. Lives that had been needlessly lost. As Reegan's mom struggled to get the law passed, she couldn't stop thinking—and praying—about the young lives a law might save.

But the death of this one little girl, a child with a smile that could melt a glacier, and a mommy determined to stop the tragedy of undiagnosed diabetes. This fight—in the name of Little Reegan—must change the world. Nothing less would be acceptable.  

In my next column, I will share how the love of one mom, and her drive to make a difference, conquered the state of North Carolina and launched one of the most incredible diabetes grass roots of change—ever.

I am a DiabetesDad.


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