MECHANICSVILLE – Tara Gray is a mom on a mission: Her 10-year-old daughter Cassie was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes last month and she is determined to make people understand the differences between Type 1 and Type 2.
The Oct. 20 diagnosis came as a shock to the family. As for any possible inherited conditions, Tara said, “No lupus, no autoimmune disorders – not that I know of.”
She and her husband Paul noticed that Cassie “hadn’t been acting like herself. She wasn’t playing outside – we live in a great cul-de-sac with a whole bunch of kids. Normally, we’d have to drag her inside at night.”
Cassie was, however, “drinking a lot more, then she started to not look very well and we’re saying to her, ‘Are you sure you’re feeling OK? You don’t look like yourself.’ She kept insisting she was fine.”
A call to Cassie’s pediatrician led to a directive of “Take her to St. Mary’s [Hospital].” Tara said Cassie’s blood glucose reading was so high that it didn’t register on the monitor.
Cassie’s parents were told by hospital staff, “We’re going to have to send it [her blood] to the lab, because it [the reading] was not showing because her number is too high.”
“Within a matter of minutes,” Tara said, “four doctors told me, my husband and two daughters that she was being admitted to assisted care. I later found out the next day that the lab’s number was 729.”
“It just happened so fast, and they said, ‘This is what we suspect that it is.’ ”
The next day, Tara said, the diagnosis was confirmed: Cassie has Type 1 Diabetes. “We met the endocrinologist at St. Mary’s for pediatrics.” Diagrams were drawn on a white board showing the pancreas.
“The endocrinologist started explaining to us that, even at the age of 10, her body had failed her and that for the rest of her life the insulin will act as her pancreas,” Tara said.
Cassie spent a night in assisted care and one night on the pediatrics floor. She was able to go on the third day.
“When we came home,” Tara said, “I probably felt more nervous, sleepless, and sleep-deprived. We came home with a lot of literature, pamphlets, and books, and I had everything spread out on the dining room table. It looked like a nurses’ station.”
“They give you all these things to prepare for your chronically ill child that you’re so overwhelmed and can’t comprehend everything that you’re ready,” she added.
The next step would be helping Cassie transition back to school. She is the only child in her elementary school with Type 1 Diabetes.
To prepare Cassie and her family for this life-changing condition, the hospital sent her home with a backpack geared toward children. Tara said there was cookbook type information.
“So, really, overnight the parents are expected to be an RN [registered nurse] and a dietician. I can’t believe we’re being sent home alone with her and trying to make her comfortable at school,” she continued.
Cassie missed a week of school. “She finally got comfortable enough to take the cookbook into the backpack and her counselor read it to the class,” Tara said. “That really calmed down the stigma.”
Tara emphasizes that there was nothing Cassie did to end up with the diagnosis. “It’s literally, essentially, their pancreas has just stopped working. It’s an autoimmune disease. The pancreas is really no good to them anymore.”
Cassie was a trooper on Halloween, knowing she could not enjoy the treats being handed out in her neighborhood. A neighbor put together a goody bag of sugar-free items for her.
“You don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re doing what you can to keep her alive,” Tara said. “It’s very overwhelming, and we still don’t know what we’re doing.”
They’re all learning about counting carbohydrates.
Cassie has been doing the finger prick to check her blood glucose levels. A plan was set up for her at school.
“She’s been struggling, but she’s starting to realize that she probably can’t have a big cup of eggnog anymore,” her mom said. They are exploring recipe possibilities.
“Even on the days she doesn’t want to accept it, I do want her to embrace it. This is just you, part of your life.”
Tara and Paul ordered a medical ID bracelet for Cassie. “It’s a really pretty bracelet – the worst/best piece of jewelry that we ever purchased.”
With tears streaming down her face, Cassie said, “I hope I don’t give this to my kids.”
Cassie’s parents told her: “You’ve got to accept this; this I part of you; and you’re gonna have to put yourself first. This is kind of what it is. I’ve got to make sure that she understands she’s gonna have to accept that this is Cassie’s life and our life.”
Tara said she has been reading articles about statistics associated with being the parent of a Type 1 Diabetic. She did note that some parents become victims of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
She has joined a local Facebook group of moms with kids with Type 1 Diabetes. Support is important to the entire family.
“I am comforted by every prick, each finger prick that is good, and she eats a meal that she likes. I’m taking it day-by-day, because it can be overwhelming if I don’t do that,” Tara said.
She is pursuing legislation that will authorize a Type 1 Diabetes license plate in Virginia. She is hopeful that Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-4, will introduce the measure in the upcoming session of the General Assembly.
Tara wants people to understand that difference between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. Type 1 mostly affects children, and, she added, the two types shouldn’t be grouped together.
For more information on Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association website at https://www.diabetes.org/.