Imagine for a moment what it’s like to have five injections a day, one before every meal or snack, anticipating every morsel of food that you will eat before you eat it, adjusting each injection accordingly. But what if you decide to go for a bike ride? You’ll have to figure out how your increased activity level will influence your blood sugar, maybe have an extra snack, or lower your last dosage to make up for the impact exercise can have in lowering your sugar. Remember, if your blood sugar is too low, it can be life-threatening. You’ll also have to prick your finger ten or more times a day to monitor your blood sugar levels. Now picture doing all of this for your three-year-old daughter.
Hallie Addington knows the challenges and heartbreak that comes along when your child is diagnosed with type I diabetes. Her daughter, Avery, was diagnosed at age three, after a five-day stay in the hospital. Reflecting back on the time of diagnosis, Hallie said, “Looking back, I think, ‘Gosh, how did we do that!’ It was really challenging…She was so little with the shots, and she just hated them. We would have to hold her down every time we had to give her a shot. That’s heartbreaking… Your whole life changes in an instant.”
As children grow up, all parents tend to have some anxiety around their child’s growing ability to be independent and desire to be with friends and engage in activities without mom and dad. When your child has type I diabetes, however, another layer of fear presents itself to parents, leaving them wondering about their child’s blood sugar levels, what they’re eating, if their medication is being administered properly. Hallie and Avery, now nine-years-old, utilize technology to give Avery the independence she requires to learn and grow, and Hallie the comfort and reassurance she needs to feel comfortable letting Avery spread her wings. “Now that she’s nine, she’s older, and it’s amazing,” Hallie shared. “She’s lived with this disease for six years. We did all of her care at first, but as she’s gotten older she’s more and more able to handle things on her own.’
Hallie emphasized the importance of new technology, including continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), a device that automatically checks Avery’s blood sugar every five minutes, saying, “I could not imagine living without it. School, friends and things like that – technology makes doing those things so much more possible.” Avery and Hallie also utilize CGM’s share technology, an app that allows Avery to share the CGM data with her mom. “It has really given her independence,” Hallie explained. “If she wants to go to a birthday party by herself, or for sports, I can monitor to see that she’s okay.”
Hallie’s goal is really to “minimize any complications Avery can have from this disease, and of course as a parent that’s our goal, to keep her as healthy as possible so that she can live a long life.” Halllie has committed to ensuring that diabetes does not hold Avery back from doing any of the things in life that she’s inspired to do. “Diabetes isn’t going to keep her from doing anything she wants to do. If she wants to do cheerleading, we’re going to do cheerleading. It may be a little harder, it may take a little more planning, but we’ll do whatever we need to do to make it happen.”
That positive perspective and determination has inspired Hallie and Avery to advocate for increased research funding to find a cure for type I diabetes, not only for Avery, but for all families affected by the disease. “Advocacy has taught her so much… we went to Washington D.C. and she was a part of children’s congress to support diabetes research… I think it’s important for her to learn through that,” Hallie shared. “You have a voice and it’s important to advocate, and we talk about why we do this. We do the walk and we raise lots of money, teaching her that yes, it’s for you, but it’s not just for you, it’s for all your friends with diabetes too. It’s for a cure.”
Part of Hallie’s advocacy efforts include debunking myths about type I diabetes, and informing the public about this disease that has a profound effect on families touched by it. “As a teacher, I had children with type I in my class before but I didn’t know how life-threatening it could be,” Hallie revealed. “I didn’t know if your blood sugar is low, it affects cognitive ability. When Avery’s blood sugar is low, she cannot think clearly. There are times that she had trouble talking.”
There are other misconceptions about type I diabetes that have an impact on Hallie and her family. For one, type I and type II diabetes are very different. “Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease, it’s something like MS, lupus or Crohn’s, it attacks your body. Your body doesn’t produce insulin anymore. So for someone with type II diabetes, it’s more of a metabolic disorder. With type II it can be more of a slow slide, and they can control their blood sugar with diet and exercise because they are still making insulin on their own. But with type I, your body attacks insulin-producing cells, and so they don’t make any insulin anymore. So that needs to be replaced.” Second, type I diabetes, also known as juvenile-onset, is unfortunately not something that children grow out of. Hallie and her family want to share “knowledge about type I, and the stereotypes that people think, which aren’t true,” she said. “I think that’s important, because most people don’t know what it entails and how hard it is.”