In honor of National Diabetes Month, Beth Houchens shares her experience with the disease, and talks about a group she formed that’s making a big difference for families living with T1D.
My son, Beau, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 5.
After a 2.5-day stay in Children’s Hospital of Atlanta, and 16 hours of diabetic education, Beau was released to go home. As we sat on the bench outside, waiting for my husband, Tim, to pick us up, I remembered the uncertainty I felt as a new parent when Beau was born. Yes, I had a nursery and all of the “things” a baby could possibly need, but having the actual baby awakened a new level of love and responsibility.
Leaving the hospital after Beau’s diagnosis was no different. It was the beginning of our new life as a Type 1 family. We were starting over, but with a 5-year-old who would need insulin and monitoring for the rest of his life. We were afraid of what could go wrong, and hopeful we could provide a happy and healthy life for him.
Two Years Later
I could say that after two years, we are pros at living with this disease (I would be lying), and Beau is living his best life (that is true). But I would be leaving out a part of the story.
While Beau was in the hospital, I filled out an information card left by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). The organization left a bag for Beau that included a little bear named Rufus, that Beau could practice giving shots to, along with other info. Rufus is a well-loved bear today. After being home for about two weeks, a lady from JDRF called, and I talked her ear off. It felt so good to listen to her experiences as a T1D mom, as well as to share mine.
Since then, our family, along with friends, has participated in three JDRF One Walks, two in Atlanta and one in Nashville. Beau’s face always lights up when he sees other kids with insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors. His worries about being different disappear. Participating in the walks, and raising money, supports life-changing breakthroughs that give hope to everyone impacted by Type 1.
Resources for T1D Families
About a year after Beau’s diagnosis, I wanted to do more for the T1D community, so I volunteered to be a community outreach coordinator for JDRF. When children who live in the Cherokee County area are initially diagnosed, and they fill out the JDRF information card, I reach out to them to offer helpful resources and someone to talk to once they’re home. Serving in this capacity has been cathartic for me because I have been able to take my son’s diagnosis, which was so emotionally painful, and turn the pain into something positive.
As time progressed, I realized Beau also needed connections to his Type 1 community. We always heard great things about Camp Kudzu. Since 1999, Camp Kudzu has educated, empowered and inspired children living with diabetes. It’s a place where nothing is unusual about having T1D because all the campers have it. There are endocrinologists, RNs, physician assistants, and dietitians present to make sure campers are safe, and they also sneak in some educational info. One of the teen adventure camps is held at Cherokee County’s Camp Harbor High, at Lake Allatoona!
A few months ago, I started a Facebook group, Woodstock/Canton GA T1D Support Group, to offer support locally. It has grown from a few local parents I knew to 23 members. This is not a group I hope anyone needs to join, but I hope it will be a source of support and inclusiveness for those who “qualify.” If you or someone you know are a Type 1, please consider joining. All experiences are valuable, and you never know when you might need to borrow a supply or just need someone to talk to.
COVID-19 has caused making connections to be more difficult, if not impossible. Camp Kudzu and JDRF have been hit hard because they depend on fundraising to operate. This year, camp was canceled and the JDRF One Walk has moved to a virtual platform. Our local group hasn’t been able to hold events. As conditions improve, I look forward to events for the kids and parents.
What is T1D?
Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin. It is not preventable and there is currently no cure. It is not caused by eating too much sugar and T1Ds can eat sugar. Children and adults are diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes every day. Screening for T1D can be done with a simple finger poke at your or your child’s next well visit. Symptoms include fatigue, changes in vision, fruity smelling breath, extreme hunger and thirst, unexplained weight loss, unusual behavior, heavy breathing, frequent urination, nausea and vomiting.
– By Beth Embry-Houchens
Support group members introduce us to their T1D warriors.
Beau Houchens, age 7, Woodstock
Diagnosed June 27, 2018
“When you see Beau, he’ll be toting his medical supply bag, which holds his phone that displays his blood sugar, which is Bluetooth connected to his Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitor, that he wears on his body. He also carries a device that controls his insulin pump; sugar for lows; extra insulin and needles for insulin pump failures; and an emergency kit that someone else would have to administer to him if he lost consciousness. He also has a new puppy named DEX, he hopes to have trained as his Diabetic Alert dog.”
Jennings Peppers, age 7, Canton
Diagnosed Sept. 12, 2018
“Jennings faces his diabetes everyday with determination, insulin, a continuous glucose monitor, and the support of family. His smile, love of reading, fantastic math skills and love of sports show he’s a typical 7-year-old boy… the disease does not define him, it just reminds him that God gives strength to conquer every challenge.”
Charlee Perkins, age 5, Woodstock
Diagnosed Nov. 1, 2019
“Charlee has shown great strength and bravery as she quickly overcame her fear of needles, and is giving her own injections 8-10 times a day within less than a year of diagnosis. She has learned what diabetes is and how to continue living life to the fullest with this disease. Nothing can stop Super Diabetic Girl!”
Madison Grace Rhodes, age 5, Canton
Diagnosed Oct. 31, 2019
“Madison was diagnosed on a well visit to her pediatrician. She is amazingly strong and brave. She wants to become an endocrinologist and help find a cure for diabetes. She loves to teach people about diabetes and believes she will change
Eli Sullivan, age 5, Canton
Diagnosed May 24, 2017
“Having a child with Type 1 can be hard, but it doesn’t define us. The T1D community is very supportive, and we have learned to lean into each other as we navigate through the joys and fears.”
Hannah Wills, age 9, Canton
Diagnosed Jan. 21, 2020
“Hannah hasn’t let diabetes slow her down! She is a true warrior. Nothing gets in her way, especially not the highs and lows of Type 1 diabetes!”