By Megan Hopps
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
When Tina Palmer and her husband decided to start a family, they knew their life would change forever. Like most parents, the Champlin residents quickly learned that their new bundle of joy, Mitchell, would demand diaper changes and 3 a.m. feedings. And this, meant a lack of sleep.
Five years later, Palmer and her husband still don’t sleep soundly through the night, but it’s not because their baby is fussy. It’s because at the age of just 16 months, Mitchell was diagnosed with Type I diabetes.
“Mitchell was diagnosed at home,” said Palmer. “He was fussy, tired and shaky and he was losing weight. My sister is a nurse, and after doing some research, we thought it was diabetes.”
So Palmer and her sister tested his blood glucose level.
“His number was so high it didn’t even register on the meter,” she said. “I just remember driving to the hospital with my husband thinking ‘Please, don’t close your eyes, please don’t close your eyes.’ ”
When the family arrived at the Children’s Hospital they told the doctors they thought Mitchell was diabetic and the doctors decided to test him for it. Sure enough, his blood glucose levels were off the charts. The meters at the hospital couldn’t register Mitchell’s glucose level. The only message the meter gave was “CRITICAL.”
Tina later explained that on that day, his glucose level read 892. A typical reading for a child that age should be around 150.
“If he would have gone above 1,000 he would have been in the ICU,” said Palmer.
The next few days were a blur for the Palmer family. Palmer remembers the doctors told her that her sons life would be dependent on insulin shots that needed to be administered anytime Mitchell ate or drank.
“Mitchell was in the hospital for three days,” said Palmer. “And they wouldn’t let us leave until we knew how to take care of him.”
Immediately after the diagnosis the doctors began teaching the Palmers about Type I diabetes.
“The doctors taught us how to give him insulin shots,” Palmer said. “They taught us how to count carbs, measure his food, gave us information about diabetes in children.”
They learned about proper nutrition for diabetics, how to operate an insulin pump and learned to decipher Mitchell’s physical cues when his glucose levels were dropping too low.
“The whole thing was really overwhelming,” Palmer said. “It’s round-the-clock. 24/7. Non-stop.”
Palmer said she’s been lucky to have such a supportive team of doctors, friends and family. Upon hearing of Mitchell’s diagnosis, Tina’s daughter suggested that she call “Melanie’s mom.” Melanie Baker, also of Champlin, just a few years older than Mitchell, had also been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of only one year old.
So Palmer gave Melanie’s mom, Michelle Baker, a call.
Through their friendship, Baker invited Palmer to join her in a fund raising walk at the Mall of America that helps fund Type 1 diabetes research. The JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes is the largest fundraiser in the state of Minnesota.
“It was really emotional the first time,” Palmer said. “Looking around at all of the different teams, the different colored shirts. Just about every child there has an emergency bracelet or insulin pump.”
Baker created a family team, “Melanie’s Marchers,” and joined the walk to help raise funds for Type 1 diabetes research. And this year is particularly special for Melanie, now 11, and Mitchell, now 5, as they have been named the JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes ambassadors.
“Melanie and Mitchell aren’t that close in age, but he just loves being around her,” Palmer said. “She’s been such a role model for him.”
Baker and Palmer have set their team fund raising goals high, aiming to reach $8,000 in donations before the walk on Feb. 22. In the past four year, Melanie’s Marchers have raised over $26,000 to fund Type 1 diabetes research.
Palmer and Baker find hope through the JDRF Walk, knowing that researchers are working to find ways to treat and prevent Type 1 diabetes. But, more importantly, it reminds them that they are not the only ones were overwhelmed through their child’s diagnosis.
“One of the blessings for Mitchell is that he doesn’t know life any differently,” Palmer said. “And though he has to visit the nurses office multiple times during the school day, he still remains positive. One day he came home from school and told me, ‘Mom, I can do everything I want, I just can’t have all the candy I want.’ I laughed and told him ‘You can do anything you want.’”
To learn more about Type 1 diabetes, or about the JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes visit: www2.jdrf.org
Contact Megan Hopps at [email protected]