The start of school can be stressful enough for a parent without having a medical crisis to deal with on top of things.
Saanich mom Kim Dickinson faced just such a scenario when her 10-year-old son, Gavin, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in early September, days before he was to start Grade 5.
The ensuing months have been an emotional roller coaster as the family has shifted its focus to ensuring Gavin has everything he needs medically, nutritionally and emotionally.
“We’ve been managing that and all the lifestyle changes that go along with it, and the education changes,” Dickinson told Black Press Media.
Despite being a nurse herself – she is director of care for Amica Somerset House in James Bay – Dickinson said she wasn’t prepared for seeing her own child suffer during his initial diagnosis and the subsequent ups and downs of learning a new routine.
It began when Gavin, previously a healthy kid, began vomiting. Dickinson suspected COVID-19 and was prepared to get him tested, but when he kept throwing up and was breathing strangely, she raced him to hospital.
“He lost consciousness, it was very overwhelming,” she recalled. “They said his lungs are clear and then they told me he’s diabetic. I said ‘no he’s not.’
“Then they told me his blood sugar (level) is 32, when typically it should be between four and seven. They put him on a ton of IVs and said we have to wait and see and wait for the medicine to work. The whole thing was completely surreal. I was very much in shock.”
Gavin’s dad, Jaret Sichello, agreed the hospital experience Sept. 3 was nerve-wracking, watching their son be worked on by medical staff and not knowing what the outcome might be.
Since that scary experience in September the trio – Gavin spends time at both his parents’ homes – has endured a one-day-at-a-time learning curve. Type 1 diabetes is associated with finger pokes to check blood glucose levels, and regular injections of insulin to help process and prevent a buildup of blood sugar.
“Finger pokes are not ideal and four injections a day is a lot,” Dickinson said.
While helping Gavin learn self-care to keep his levels in a healthy range at school – not letting himself get too hungry, or exercising a little too vigorously, for example – has been critical, new monitoring technology has been a “game-changer,” his mom said.
Gavin wears a sensor that allows him to check his glucose level at any time, and a cellphone app sends an alert to him and his mother when his glucose level drops below 4.5. The Freestyle Libre 2 system has also given Dickinson and Sichello huge peace of mind; Dickinson said she no longer has to check overnight to ensure Gavin hasn’t gone into a diabetic coma.
They’ve also learned his moods can affect his blood sugar, Sichello said, as can stress or overactivity.
“One of the main things that is a good indicator his blood sugar might be dropping, if the sensor doesn’t pick it up, is he gets a hunger that is really intense and affects his mood,” he said. “So it’s been a learning curve.”
His school has been very supportive, Dickinson said, adjusting to his changed needs and becoming familiar with her arriving to inject him with insulin. Gavin now does his own checks at school and has a sense of control over his situation, she added.
Future daily treatment could eventually include an insulin pump, which would give Gavin, an avid gamer and YouTuber, even more independence.
While his diagnosis has made their lives more regimented and required vigilance in things like diet planning – carbs and proteins affect blood sugar differently – Dickinson and Sichello are grateful Gavin is still able to live a relatively normal life.
“We’re giving ourselves that space to grieve (the less complicated past) and when the hard days come, we allow them to be hard,” Dickinson said, tearing up a little.
“Gavin is great, he’s kept his spirits up,” Sichello said of how his son is adjusting to the lifestyle changes. Working with the Victoria Diabetes Education Centre has also helped a lot, he added.
Mom added of Gavin, “he’s a total trooper, super resilient” and is focused on finding a cure to Type 1 diabetes. “We’ve all had our moments, but he is really embracing it.”
More information about support resources for living with Type 1 diabetes can be found at jdrf.ca.
Editor’s Note: This version of the story contains information not included in the original.
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