By Marjorie Nesin
---- — Anyone with a teenager in his or her life can vouch for the difficulty of gathering a group of teens to stay after school for an educational program, especially when the teens could venture off with friends, head home for some T.V. time or play a ball game.
But a group of students sat around a table in Gloucester High School’s guidance office Thursday after the last school bell rang, defying those odds for a chance to discuss the auto immune disorder that shapes the lives of eight students at the school: Type 1 diabetes.
Bethany Haselgard, who not only attends the weekly group sessions but also attends a camp for kids with diabetes each summer, said the group has created another way to help her stay involved and healthy, too.
”I find when you get more involved with the diabetes community, you take better care of yourself,” Haselgard, a sophomore, said. “We all saw each other in passing in the nurses’ office, but the group has really brought us together.”
Haselgard’s mom, Julie Mackey, said she is relieved that the school’s nurses have helped Haselgard in school, and she is thankful for the after-school program that school nurse and nurse leader for the district Cindy Juncker sparked up this year — a program that, it turns out, is pretty unique.
”You either have something for little, little kids or for the elderly, but you don’t have anything for this period, the most awkward time of your life,” Mackey said.
Studies have proven that children at the high school age require more help and encouragement to be attentive about taking care of themselves, than even younger kids, Juncker pointed out.
Juncker has hosted speakers for many of the after school meetings, some who discussed nutrition and planning with the teens, one who showed them safe exercising techniques, and others who taught mechanisms for coping with the stress that can accompany the responsibilities of their chronic disease.
“Sometimes we end up just talking. They vent because they can vent and this group understands,” Juncker said.
The students dissect a variety of issues at the weekly sessions, including dealing with worried parents, pricking their fingers in public, and the difference between Type 1 diabetes — the disorder when a person’s body just stops making insulin — and Type 2, the disorder that 95 percent of people with diabetes have, when the body still makes some insulin, but your body cannot use it properly.
”It’s the stereotypes that really bother you, people don’t really understand,” said Gabriela Robertson, a freshman and GHS soccer player. “It’s like no, I can eat sugar, it’s just not always worth it right now.”
What does she mean by “worth it”?
Juncker explained that people with Type 1 diabetes can eat what they want, with careful attentiveness and carbohydrate counting. Still, these students on a good day, test their blood levels before each snack or meal, pumping in insulin if necessary. They silently count each carbohydrate and sugar to measure how much insulin balancing each bite of food requires.
Even with all that, there are times when blood sugars can soar dangerously high, inspiring frustratingly common trips to the bathroom paired with thirst. Or, the blood sugar levels can drop, causing a diabetic to feel faint or even fall unconscious.
Gerald MacKillop, a public relations manager for Lahey Health, said that, after assessing the community over the past year, Addison Gilbert Hospital officials found that the high rate of diabetes effects countless residents. Those numbers, he said, include both residents with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
”It breaks all the normal socio-economics and demographics divides. It’s off the charts,” MacKillop said. “We know it’s an issue so we need to properly care for our community.”
All of the high school group members have Type 1 diabetes. Though type 1 is far less common among the entire population than Type 2, adolescents with diabetes trend toward Type 1, often because Type 2 tends to result more from lifestyle choices made over a long period of time and from genetic predispositions.
Though diabetics with Type 1 diabetes carry the predisposition for the insulin resistance from birth, the eight high school students all met their diagnoses at different ages, ranging from 2 to 11.
Freshman Dan Canillas learned his lifestyle would change when he was 11. At first, he said, the transition proved hard, but he has learned a lot, and started attending the group at his nurse’s insistence in order to learn more.
”I figured it would help me get to know a little more about this disease,” Canillas said. “so I can eventually take better care of myself.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.