The headlines scream about the obesity crisis
facing this nation, with dire warnings about disease and earlier
death awaiting today's children if something isn't done soon.
Fitting hand in glove with the pandemic is a rising crisis right
here in Chicago, the surge in the number of children being
diagnosed with diabetes.
While Type 2 diabetes, the form of the disease generally
caused by overeating and poor lifestyle choices and until recently
not seen in children, is setting off the most warnings, cases of
Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease, are also on the rise,
"All of it is actually pretty concerning," says Dr. Anita
Swamy, who heads a diabetes-focused team at La Rabida Children's
Hospital, Chicago's only certified pediatric diabetes
La Rabida, on the city's south side, put money behind its
concern in an effort it hopes will improve the lives of its
patients, creating a diabetes center with three doctors, three
physicians in training, three nurse practitioners, one advanced
practice nurse, one registered nurse, two dieticians, two social
workers and a team of psychologists. What all that means is that
someone is available 24 hours a day to help parents manage what can
at times seem like an overwhelming disease.
In addition to the program at its main location, there are
three outreach clinics in St. John, Ind., New Lenox and Hinsdale to
make care more accessible to families.
"I really do feel like our patients think that we are part
of their team and they are not alone in treating this, and I think
that impact is more powerful than anything else. The hardest part
about diabetes sometimes is these kids feel quite isolated and the
parents feel overwhelmed," Swamy says.
No one knows better how diabetes can change a lifestyle
than Ann Rogers, her family and her 10-year-old son, Matt, who was
diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at just 14 months old.
Rogers remembers feeling a lot of disbelief rushing her
baby to the ER.
While it was rough going at first, she says the family
found a good network to help, including the doctors and nurses at
La Rabida. La Rabida, she says, goes the extra mile and has been
The family makes sure Matt has a regular life, which
includes competitive swimming.
"You don't want your son not to be part of something
because he has diabetes," Rogers says.
But Rogers is focused on controlling the disease, checking
Matt's blood sugar levels about 10 times a day. She cheered, along
with Dr. Rose Briars, the diabetes center co-director, when she
looked over his numbers at a recent appointment at the La Rabida
clinic in Hinsdale.
"Our whole goal with diabetes is to keep him healthy, no
complications, so when he's cured, he walks away. Everything we do
as a family is for that one goal," Rogers says.
Swamy knows how she feels. Diabetes has been part of her
life since early on; her father died from it when she was 12. She
says she hopes better treatments, more medications and a cure
happen in her lifetime.
Her goal, she says, is to keep "her kids," as she calls
her patients, from the same problems as her dad.
With the team approach to diabetes care, Swamy says she's
already seeing improvements in patients, with kids taking better
care of themselves.
At the same time, La Rabida is reaching into Chicago
neighborhoods to educate people on how to eat right and exercise to
prevent new cases.
Rogers looks at the increased knowledge about nutrition
for her family as a gift. They limit fats, watch for processed
foods, eat whole grains and get plenty of exercise.
"We talk to Matt about it. 'Everybody has something; some
kids wear glasses, some kids have wheelchairs, you have diabetes.'
That's it. He gets that," Rogers says. "He's super empathic, a real
" ... He's a gift."
Tamara is the editor of Chicago Parent and mom of three.
See more of Tamara's stories here.
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