There are a lot of misconceptions out there about diabetes. One of the biggest is it only occurs in older people.
Christian Clark is a 9-year-old student at Thomas Jefferson Elementary. He loves to draw, read, play video games, rap music — especially Lil Wayne — and is involved in everything from a bowling league to Cub Scouts.
He also has Type 1 diabetes.
Another misconception people have is that there is only one form of diabetes. Type 2 is the more common form of diabetes and takes place when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body just completely ignores it. Type 1 occurs when the body stops producing insulin altogether and that person is dependent on insulin for the rest of his or her life.
“I just want people to realize that he can live a normal life,” said Sarah Allen, Christian’s mother. “He now has more energy, and he can do what every other child does. It’s just that he has to watch what he eats, and we have to count carbs.”
Christian is a very active kid these days. But before he was diagnosed on Nov. 11, 2011, his mother and future step-father, Justin Vaske, noticed something wasn’t right. He was struggling to get up in the mornings and urinated frequently, and one time they found him in the bathtub nearly comatose.
“Before he was diagnosed, he was always complaining that he didn’t feel good, that he was tired or just didn’t have energy,” Vaske said. “Always not wanting to go to school because he felt sick all of the time. And then once he started getting treated he wanted to do more fun things.”
According to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes are:
• Extreme thirst
• Frequent urination
• Drowsiness or lethargy
• Increased appetite
• Sudden weight loss
• Sudden vision changes
• Sugar in the urine
• Fruity odor on the breath
• Heavy or labored breathing
• Stupor or unconsciousness
“A lot of medical doctors especially, some of your older doctors and even some of the doctors in the 30s and 40s, don’t know about Type 1,” Allen said. “There have actually been kids that died from (misdiagnosis), which is one of the reasons I want to spread awareness. There have been kids from his age on up to high school that have died because the parents have taken them to or called the doctor, and doctor says, ‘Oh, they just have the flu wait it out a couple days.’ Well, they end up dying.”
Talking to Christian now, it’s hard to believe that he ran out of the room the first time they tried to give him an insulin shot back in 2011. He checks his blood sugar six to eight times a day by pricking his finger, which oddly enough he likes. He takes three fast-acting insulin shots a day and one long lasting shot at night and more if he needs it. Christian even enjoys a few perks of being a diabetic in school.
“I can go (to the bathroom at school) whenever I want,” Christian excitedly proclaimed. “Nobody even asks me about it (diabetes) anymore.”
And as an Iowan, Christian loves wrestling.
“I have this stuffed animal dog that’s about this big,” Christian said as he holds his hand a few feet above the ground. “I wrestle with it on my couch. I’m always jumping around on the couches.”
Christian is also a talented up-and-coming artist, a trait his mother believes he inherited from his biological dad, Jordan Clark.
“Because I’m good at it,” Christian said of why he likes to draw. “I drew a picture of Lil Wayne too. Last year everybody wanted me to make a picture for them in art class.”
While Christian is without a doubt living a normal life, his mom still wants people to be more aware of the disease and to clear up misconceptions about how a person gets it so that they can catch it early in their children and prevent more tragedies.
“It’s an auto-immune disease and has nothing to do with what he consumes,” Allen said. “It’s not the end of the world. It stinks that he’s a diabetic and I want a cure more than anything, but he can still live a happy life. So my wish is that if I can save one life by raising awareness then that’s OK.”
Sarah Allen is willing to help anyone who is interested in learning more about Type 1 diabetes and can be contacted through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone who would like to help Christian and other diabetic children to Camp Hertko Hollow — a special, non-profit camp for kids with diabetes — may donate at www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/camp4Christian/sarahspage.
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at email@example.com.