Mom makes sure life is sweet for her diabetic child

It’s a hot day at Dodds Soccer Complex, and 6-year-old Quinn wanders over to her mom for another drink — and a squirt.

There’s this new water bottle, you see, with a nifty sprayer, and she can’t resist spritzing everyone around her.

“You look hot,” she says as I walk up, and proceeds to spray my arms and legs.

“Not the notebook,” her mom cautions.

The phrase “doesn’t know a stranger” was coined for this child: cheerful, outgoing, sunny to all.

Which is why, two years ago, when she suddenly became tired, cranky and constantly thirsty, mom Leighann Calentine was concerned. Quinn had contracted a fever a couple of weeks before and had trouble bouncing back. Always a good sleeper, she also started waking up 20 minutes after going to bed, asking for a glass of milk or something to eat.

At preschool, where her mom volunteered, Quinn cried when she had to wait to get a drink until music was over. Not like her at all.

A few days later she drank a full half-gallon of milk. Something was wrong.

Her mom called the nurse, who told her to bring in a urine specimen. She did, then went on to preschool with Quinn.

Just before lunch, the doctor called with a message: Get over to Carle right away. The test showed sugar in Quinn's urine, and they needed to check her blood-sugar, stat.

It was sky-high.

Everything changed in that instant. Calentine and her husband were ordered to take Quinn to St. Louis immediately. (Carle and Christie don’t treat children with diabetes.) They hurriedly packed their bags and took off for St. Louis Children’s Hospital, leaving baby Rowan (then not yet 1) with Calentine’s mother, who was their regular baby sitter.

When they arrived in St. Louis, late on a Friday evening, doctors immediately hooked Quinn up to an IV, checked her blood sugar and ketones, and spent the next two days figuring out how much insulin she’d need. Calentine and her husband attended classes during the day to learn everything they could about diabetes, while Quinn was entertained by nurses and volunteers who took her to the playroom and the hospital’s rooftop garden.

“She actually handled it really well,” Calentine remembers, almost like a vacation.

The family went home the following Monday, settling into a bewildering routine of shots, blood-sugar checks, food logs and constant record-keeping. Quinn required insulin injections four times a day to keep her blood sugar within the accepted range. With a 1-year-old, a full-time job and a blog she’d started in 2006, Calentine was exhausted.

But after a few months, she was able to write about her experience on her blog.

“I had to go through Step 1 of the grieving process” first,” she says.

She hunted for information online and found bloggers who had been diagnosed as young adults. Through them, she hooked up with parents of other children with diabetes.

Then in January of this year, she launched the D-Mom Blog (www.d-mom.com) to help others in her situation. Just a few months old, the blog was nominated for two awards this spring, one from Nickleodeon and one from Bloganthropy.org, a nonprofit that combines social media with corporate giving.

There are at least 100 other parents blogging about their children with diabetes, but many are essentially journals, Calentine says. She wants hers to be a source of information and feedback for parents.

“It’s taken me two years to learn all I know. I want to get these resources out to other people so it doesn’t take them two years to learn it.”

She gets several thousand hits a month but also has subscribers in several countries and more than 500 fans on her Facebook page.

The website includes features like “D-Mom tested,” where she tries out new products for children with diabetes; “Ask a D-Mom,” where readers can post questions to other parents; and “Resources for D-Moms,” with advice on snack foods and restaurants, common diabetes terms, and help for newly diagnosed children.

She sees it as a way of advocating for Quinn, a way to stay on top of resources and new products and ask other parents, “What works for you?”

In fact, Quinn would still be getting four shots a day if not for the blog. Calentine met two bloggers in Chicago last year who had been diagnosed as children, and “they both said, ‘You need to get her on a pump.’ ”

Quinn wears the Omnipod pump around her waist, a tiny computer that can transmit just the right amount of insulin through a canula, or plastic tube, inserted under her skin. When Calentine takes a blood-sugar reading by pricking Quinn’s finger, she feeds the test strip into another portable device that sends the readings to the Omnipod.

“It allows so much more flexibility” in case Quinn eats more than usual, she says.

Calentine also writes about her own family’s experiences on the D-Mom Blog, the latest about their move to a new home and Quinn’s cheerful acceptance of her diagnosis. She recounts how Quinn befriended an elderly gentleman with diabetes at the library, exchanging stories of blood tests and insulin.

There have been tough moments. A month after her diagnosis, Quinn decided she didn’t want any more shots or blood tests. “We had a rough couple of days,” her mom says.

Luckily, around the same time a care package arrived from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, with a stuffed bear named Rufus who came with a story about a boy who had been diagnosed. It got them over the hump.

“Once in a while, she asks, ‘Why?’ I just say, ‘We don’t have a choice,’ ” Calentine says.

They don’t, in fact, know why. There’s no family history on either side, true of a majority of diabetics, she says.

The hardest part — besides the lack of sleep — is surrendering her daughter to another person’s care in school. Baby-sitting is not an option, except for family. It’s just too “life-threatening,” she says.

But Leighann refuses to dwell on that. She keeps Quinn active with soccer, dance, ice-skating and tennis, and is trying to organize a play group with other area children who have diabetes. The subhead on her blog, in fact, is “the sweet life with a diabetic child.”

“I try to be positive. I’m not a complainer, I’m a doer.”

Like mother, like daughter.

News-Gazette columnist Julie Wurth will be featuring other local mom-bloggers periodically on the Are We There Yet blog. You can also reach her at 351-5226, jwurth@news-gazette.com, or on Twitter.com/jawurth.

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Here are some helpful resources for children with diabetes:

--Diabetes Advocates, which includes top names in diabetes blogging: www.diabetesadvocates.org

-- 2010 Roche Social Media Summit, which brought together a small group of diabetes bloggers to provide feedback and discuss issues: www.d-mom.com/roche-social-media-summit

-- American Diabetes Association website: www.diabetes.org

-- Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation: www.jdrf.org

-- Children with Diabetes, an online community for parents, kids, adults and families living with type 1 diabetes: www.childrenwithdiabetes.com
 

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