Our lives with diabetes

Kelly Cash, a long-time employee in pediatrics administration, never imagined that one of her children would become a N.C. Children's Hospital patient. For several weeks in early 2013, however, something just wasn’t right with her then 6-year-old son, Connor. Here, Kelly shares what it was like to learn Connor has type 1 diabetes.

Our lives with diabetes click to enlarge Connor was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in February. His mom, Kelly, shares her family's journey adapting to the "new normal."

I have loved working at North Carolina Children’s Hospital for the past seven years. Although my role here is administrative in nature, I have always felt that my contributions somehow had an indirect impact on the tremendous care that is delivered to our patients. With two healthy children of my own, I never anticipated being on the receiving end of that care.

On February 13, 2013, everything changed. We found ourselves at North Carolina Children’s Hospital in the face of some devastating news, and our lives would never be the same again.

Something Wasn't Right

For several weeks, something just wasn’t right with Connor. He was often excessively thirsty, and he appeared to be losing weight. School was not going well for Connor either; he was having a very difficult time paying attention and seemed to be taking lots of trips to the bathroom.

A quick Google search of his symptoms immediately brought up type 1 diabetes, resulting in a call to our pediatrician. I was terrified imagining a life-time of insulin injections and horrifying complications for my sweet baby boy, who was just 6 years old.

The next morning, we dropped off a urine sample to the pediatrician. Minutes later, we got the call: there was indeed sugar in Connor's urine, and we needed to get him to the Children’s Hospital ASAP.

Life Changed in an Instant

I remember walking from my office that morning to meet my husband, Tony, and Connor in the lobby. I remember watching Connor walk in to “Mommy’s work” looking so very small and afraid. I remember thinking that life as we knew it was about to change forever—and it did.

Connor was admitted to the hospital with a blood glucose level over 550 (normal levels are 80-120). Thankfully, and because we caught his symptoms early, he was not in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a potentially life-threatening complication of diabetes.

With no family history of diabetes, to say that we were shocked would be putting it mildly. Overnight, my child, who previously hyperventilated at the mere mention of a flu shot, was facing five or more finger pricks a day to test his blood sugar levels and four or more insulin injections daily.

Those first few days are a complete blur.

What I do remember are the faces of those who took care of us in those critical hours when we learning everything there is to know about diabetes and how to keep our child alive and healthy.

I remember the face of one of our pediatric chief residents, who was on call that night, as he told us he would be there all night if we needed anything. I remember the face of the endocrinology fellow, who told us that everything really was going to be okay. I remember the face of the diabetes educator, who spent an entire day with Connor and me, teaching us the ins and outs of our new reality. I remember the face of the nurse who allowed me to practice giving an injection using her own arm as practice. I remember the face of the nutritionist, who allowed me to finally have a good cry on her shoulder. I remember the calming presence of Dr. Ali (Calikoglu), who that day became Connor’s (and my) hero and who, for a month following our hospital stay, faithfully answered his phone at 8 p.m. every night to review blood sugar numbers from the day and help us plan for the following day.

This amazing "dream team" of caregivers didn't do these things for my family, because I am an employee. They did them, because that's just how much they personally care about their patients and their families, each and every one of them.

Our New Normal

The months since Connor's diagnosis have been extremely challenging for our family. We've all learned an astounding amount of information in a very short time. And, yes, we've cried a lot, but we've also laughed at ourselves quite a bit along this journey.

I can tell you that I have learned to spot a low blood sugar by just looking at Connor. I can tell you that his big sister, Faith, now feels comfortable babysitting her brother, testing blood sugars and giving insulin injections. I can tell you that my husband can simultaneously coach a team of 12 7-year-old baseball players and test blood sugars in the dug-out. I can tell you that we wake up multiple times most nights to check and be sure that Connor is not hypoglycemic, often pricking a finger or toe to test his blood sugar.

Nine months after Connor’s diagnosis, we've achieved new normal. Connor, now 7, tests his own blood sugars, counting carbs in everything he eats. He is quick to tell you what he can and cannot have to eat or drink. He’s also busy playing baseball, enjoying new friends in second grade, and educating everyone he comes into contact with about type 1 diabetes.

Words cannot express how proud I am of the strength Connor has showed through this difficult time. I’m also infinitely grateful for the outstanding care that was provided and continues to be provided to my family here at North Carolina Children’s Hospital. I’ve always known that I had amazing colleagues, but now I know firsthand what excellent clinicians and caregivers they are, too.

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