Family gets vocal about diabetes struggles
November 24, 2015
It was February of 2008 when Park City resident Christina Miller thought she had the flu. She went in to see her doctor and mentioned that she felt tired. Then she mentioned something else.
"I told him, ‘oh, as a side note, I think I have a bladder infection. It’s no big deal,’" she said. "’I just noticed I’ve been drinking and going to the bathroom a lot.’"
The doctor instantly recognized what might be going on. He ran some tests and confirmed: Miller had diabetes.
"I had no idea what I was going through were all symptoms," she said. "I went in there for the flu and left with him saying I needed to go to the hospital because my blood sugar was so out of whack. A normal adult ranges between 70 and 130. I was in the 800s."
Miller is a Type 1 diabetic, meaning hers is an autoimmune condition and not the result of bad behaviors. Still, when she was first diagnosed she didn’t really know the difference.
"I’d never thought about diabetes," she said. "We eat well. I was seeing a trainer a few times a week. I had no family history."
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In the beginning, Miller managed her diabetes the traditional way — she counted carbs. Like many diabetics, before a meal she would get her charts and calculate how much insulin she would need to take for the meal she was planning to eat. How much is a potato worth? A drink at the bar?
"Everything but meat and vegetables, pretty much," she said. "And if you’re having something with fats, like pizza? That changes things. If you worked out before the meal? That does, too."
For two or three months, Miller managed her diabetes that way. She charitably referred to it as, "a pain in the butt." Luckily for her, a new system was approved in Utah right around that time, an evolution of which she now uses, called the OmniPod. It’s a simple, wireless device that attaches to the back of a patient’s arm and stays there for 72 hours. It houses insulin and a computer that will give a steady, miniscule dose of insulin as well as larger doses when the patient eats.
"You have this device here that just looks like a phone," Miller said. "You plug in what you are planning to eat and it calculates the does for you."
The pod made it easier, more manageable. The carb counting days were over, right? Imagine Miller’s surprise two years ago when her three-year-old son, Alex, was diagnosed as Type 1 diabetic. And three-year-olds can’t use the pod. So out came the charts once again.
About six months ago, Miller and her then 11-year-old daughter, Sophia, were doing the laundry when Sophia mentioned an issue she’d been having.
"I told her for the last couple of nights I’d gotten up nine times to go to the bathroom," Sophia said.
Instantly, Miller felt a sense of dread.
"I checked her blood sugar, and yeah, she had it," Miller said. "It was shocking, because it is not an inherited disease."
Two months ago both Alex and Sophia got OmniPods of their own. Up until then, however, they were doing it the old-fashioned way.
"In our kitchen we had these cards everywhere, trying to figure out what everyone’s number was," Miller said. "It was totally chaotic. "
In short, a system like the OmniPod has been a life changer. Without it?
"I would have to quit my job," Miller said. "I literally would not be able to work. There is no way, with three of us, that we could keep track of all our numbers and have everyone eat dinner at the same time."
Sophia said the pod has made a big difference for her, as well. When she was diagnosed at the end of last year she said she was nervous, testing herself as many as five times each class, worried about her levels. Before she ate she and the school nurse had to go over her carb chart and make the calculations.
"This is just so much easier," she said.
Sophia even gave a presentation to all her classes this year to educate them on diabetes and to explain the specifics of her condition.
"It was like, ‘no, I’m not contagious," she said.
That may seem a silly thing to have to say but in truth, many people — like Miller herself in 2008 — know next to nothing about diabetes. Many who have diabetes don’t even know it yet.
"We’re vocal for a number of reasons," Miller said. "One is to get the word out to people to see if they can support different organizations that are looking for lower-cost alternatives to devices like this. But also a lot of companies are on the cusp of a cure or a vaccine or whatever it may be."
Miller said she believes the louder she is, the more diabetes is in the conversation, the more likely progress will be made.
"Everybody has to jump on board to do something, and I think the more people know about it the more pressure is put on," she said. "You have to be vocal."
Even Sophia said she is proud to be vocal about her diabetes if it means another kid who has it feels a little more confident, or realizes they, too, might be diabetic. There is one very important message Miller said she wants to impart.
"Life goes on after the diagnosis," she said. "It’s a pain in the butt, sure. But it’s an extra suitcase when you travel. That’s all."
Miller said she is thankful she and her children have access to the OmniPod technology and the means to pay for it, and she believes every diabetic deserves the same.
"Without OmniPod I don’t know how we would do it," she said. "There were a lot of ups and downs before this."
For more information on diagnoses and available resources visit the American Diabetes Association at diabetes.org.
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