Differences in diabetic types are many
By Karen Caffarini For Sun-Times Media
Show of support: The Plesac family of Crown Point, including Zach (from left), 17, Ron, Jeannine, Frank, 10, and Ronnie, 17, participated in a walk to fight juvenile diabetes, which Frank was diagnosed with four years ago. Jeannine, a registered nurse at Franciscan St. Anthony Health in Crown Point, has been team captain for the Franciscan Alliance St. Anthony Health Crown Point-sponsored team during the walk which takes place at Hidden Lake Park in Merrillville each September. | Supplied photo
Life changed dramatically for the Plesac family of Crown Point on Jan. 9, 2009.
That’s when son Frank, now 10, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes.
The family soon learned that unlike its more common cousin, Type 2 diabetes, there is no known cause or cure for Type 1. Nor can it be simply controlled by diet, exercise or a shot a day.
With Type 1 diabetes, the body doesn’t produce any insulin at all so diet doesn’t matter. However, counting carbohydrate intake, checking sugar levels six to eight times a day and several times during the night, and being able to know the signs if the diabetic’s blood sugar level is too high or too low, do matter, according to Frank’s mom, Jeannine Plesac, a registered nurse at Franciscan St. Anthony Health in Crown Point.
“Type 1 diabetics aren’t as controlled as Type 2 diabetics. Their blood sugar numbers go up and down,” said Plesac, who added her son’s numbers have been as low as 31 and as high as in the 600s.
“It gets scary when it gets too low. Sometimes it’s hard to wake him up and give him sugar or carbohydrates to bring it up,” she said.
Differences in types
According to the American Diabetes Association, only 5 percent of people with diabetes have Type 1. It’s an autoimmune disorder, in which the body’s immune system attacks cells in the pancreas that make insulin, a hormone that controls a person’s blood sugar.
Plesac said while Type 2 diabetes can be hereditary, it often is caused by poor diet and lack of exercise and can be controlled by improving both and losing weight, as well as through pills and shots.
“Type 1 is hereditary, usually brought on by a chemical or virus,” said Plesac, who has been doing a lot of research on the disease since her son was diagnosed.
Plesac said even though she is a registered nurse and learned about the disease while in nursing school at Indiana University Northwest, she knew little about this rarer form until 2009.
“When he was first diagnosed, I asked if he could just take a pill and be OK,” she said.
Plesac said Frank was taken to LaRabida Hospital in Chicago following diagnosis. He now has an insulin pump at home that comes with a remote meter to check blood sugar. The pump is monitored by nurse educators at LaRabida.
Plesac said Frank goes to a LaRabida satellite office in St. John every two to three months for a full assessment and to go over his care with a doctor.
Plesac said Type 1 diabetics need to take insulin every time they eat, and need to count their carbohydrates. She said for every 12 carbohydrates he eats at breakfast, Frank needs to get one unit of insulin.
A wide choice of foods
Frank visits the nurse at Solon Robinson School, where he is a fifth-grader, every school day to determine how many carbs he’ll have with his lunch and how much insulin he’ll need. He visits the nurse again before school lets out.
“If his blood sugar is low, she’ll give him a snack,” Plesac said.
On the plus side, Type 1 diabetics can eat whatever they want, unlike those suffering from Type 2.
“If people see Frank at Dairy Queen or eating a snack, they think we’re bad parents. But he can eat that. What he eats doesn’t affect his blood sugar if he gets his insulin,” Plesac said.
Frank doesn’t like the fact that his illness keeps him from sleepovers at friends’ houses since his blood sugar levels need to be checked a few times during the night. But other than that, he leads an active, normal life playing baseball and basketball, swimming and jumping on a trampoline, Plesac said.
In fact, she pointed out that the disease hasn’t kept another Type 1 diabetic from reaching athletic heights — Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.