Carter's Story - Diabetes Awareness
NOVEMBER IS DIABETES AWARENESS MONTH!
A month that has now taken on a whole new meaning in my family’s life. On June 22, 2023, our son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. This is his story.
My name is Shyla Harper, and I am a nurse at Greater Regional Health. I am married to the love of my life Dusty and together we have three very high-spirited teenage boys. Dallas was our first-born son in May 2008, and in November of 2009 along came our twins Kayson and Carter.
Carter had come to me the weekend before his diagnosis and said he was not feeling well. He could not really describe what was wrong, but just over all malaise, and feeling fatigued. I did all the “mom” things. Checked temperature, looked in his ears, his nose, his mouth, and asked about symptoms. Carter denied chest pain, body aches, sore throat etc. Working as a same day sick nurse I knew that there were some viruses going around, and thought maybe he had a touch of something and his body was fighting it, or maybe he was so tired because the school year had just ended three weeks prior, so he was not as active, staying up late watching movies, playing video games with his brothers and then sleeping in until god only knows what time and just kind of chalked it up to a combination of different things thinking it would pass. The morning of June 22, 2023 Carter woke up early vomiting, and feeling very sick. I happened to take this day off for an appointment with his father that was scheduled early that morning as well, so when it was time for us to go, I asked Carter to sit out in the recliner in the living room, gave him a bowl, tissues, water, TV remote, plugged his phone into the charger and covered him in a blanket to make him as comfortable as possible. I told him that Dad and I were running to Creston for an appointment, and that on our way home we would stop at Walmart and get him Gatorade, chicken noodle soup, etc. He said ok, we said our usual I love you and my husband and I left for his appointment.
Dusty & I were gone only a few hours, and when we arrived home Carter was still in the recliner where we had placed him before leaving. His color had changed, his eyes appeared sunken into his face with dark circles, his lips were dry, and cracked. He appeared frail and hot to the touch although he felt like he was freezing and was still covered in blankets. My husband and I were in agreeance that something was very wrong and that we needed to take him to the ER immediately when he jumped up and started to stumble his way to the bathroom as if he were disoriented. I followed behind him as he collapsed in the bathroom in front of our toilet as if he were going to get sick again. I sat on the edge of the bathtub rubbing his back as he hung his head over the toilet. I was in the middle of asking him if he thought he was done feeling like he was going to get sick when he suddenly turned his head and barely whispered “mom, I can’t breathe”. His head hit the toilet seat with his eyes closed and I do not remember a whole lot of the next few moments as I gathered him other than thinking I can get him there faster than they can make it to us. That is what I apparently did.
When I arrived at the ER, they roomed him right away, began running tests, attempting to hook up IV’s, but his veins were so collapsed no one could obtain bloodwork, or start an IV at this time. After many attempts by different staff members, they brought in an ultrasound machine to help guide the needle into the veins. I swear it felt like this took 10 hours, however, I know that this was only a matter of minutes. The ER staff at GRH were amazing, and worked well together performing tasks, and getting things done in a timely manner, which is still never quite quick enough for any parent that has a child laying in a hospital bed. I watched as vials of blood were taken and sent on, Intravenous fluids were hung, Oxygen was being set up, and I was trying to keep my own composure to keep my son calm. I will never in my life forget when Dr. Rasmussen opened the door and said “Shyla, we have contacted life flight and they are on their way for transport, we need to get him out of here asap. He is a type 1 diabetic, and he is in Diabetic Ketoacidosis. Carter’s lab levels are so high we cannot get a blood sugar reading on our machines.” I immediately felt like the air in my lungs and the blood in my veins had dissipated, when I turned my head to see my son, tears filled his eyes, his body was trembling, and he was completely frozen with fear. I reached out to grab a hold of him, but his whole body was frozen in fear, and I knew he was attempting to process what had just happened in the blink of an eye. I will never forget this moment.
I contacted his dad to make him aware of the situation, and before I knew it, I was being asked to step outside of the room while three members of the life flight team prepared our son for his flight to Des Moines. I watched as my son was loaded into the helicopter and flown away from me. I was not allowed to accompany my son on the helicopter, and I do not honestly remember my drive to Des Moines that day. When I arrived at the hospital, Carter had already been placed in Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and did not look at all like our normally thriving teenage son that he had just been a day before. He looked frail with no color in his body, hooked up to Iv’s that involved Insulin Drip, oxygen and monitors. His eyes were closed and sunken into his face with dark circles under them and my husband was sitting in a chair that had been pulled up to the side of the bed as he leaned on the mattress holding Carters hand.
I will never forget the Doctor that came into the room. Her first words to Dusty and I will forever be burned into my memory. “I want the two of you to understand just how lucky and fortunate you really are that you are sitting in this PICU with your son alive, and not in a funeral home planning a funeral.” Carters blood sugars were near the 700’s, his A1C was close to 13. Carter was in the PICU for three days. Three days and nights of a constant stream in and out by nurses, doctors, educators, endocrinologists, diabetic educators, and other staff. Watching your child fight for his life, trying to mentally handle the diagnosis he was just given that has just changed his life forever, and learn to count every carbohydrate that goes into his body, dial in his insulin doses, give himself insulin shots, take his blood sugars several times a day making his fingers raw and painful. Dusty and I never left his side. We would have our bad moments when Carter was asleep and pull ourselves together for our son when he was awake. I do not know how many prayers we must have prayed in that room or how many guardian angels we must have silently thanked for watching over our son, but we both feel so incredibly blessed that our family was only tested that day and not broken.
I am a Nurse by profession, however, I am a mother first and foremost and I have never felt so helpless or clueless when it came to all the education/supplies that are truly needed when your child or loved one is diagnosed with diabetes. Especially having a background in the medical field and understanding terms they were using and still feeling so overwhelmed and lost with everything. I cannot begin to imagine how it must feel for the parents/caregivers whose child or loved one is diagnosed and they are trying to take in all this information, and education with no background in the medical field. I know how Dusty and I felt, and it breaks my heart to think of the turmoil and struggle this must present to these other parents/caregivers on top of having to watch their child or loved one go through this journey. I vowed then and there to learn everything I possibly could and advocate as much as possible for Diabetes Awareness because of how unprepared I truly felt and was for the life changing diagnosis that almost took our son's life in the blink of an eye.
Carter was seen by his Primary Healthcare Provider who knows him very well, a week prior to this diagnosis for his annual Well Child Exam and his Sports Physical. Everything went great, he seemed like a normal growing, thriving, high spirited teenage boy full of laughter, and jokes. Nothing out of the ordinary, to becoming this frail boy lying in a hospital bed in intensive care and losing nearly 24 pounds in a weeks’ time. Due to the medical advances in healthcare and the abundance of laboratory blood testing that is now available it is no longer a common practice for a urine screening to be completed during a well child visit like they had done in years past. Several insurance companies do not cover the cost of a urine screening at the well child visit, and therefore they are not completed as often as they could be. Had this still been a common practice, we would have caught the ketones in his urine screening, and we could have known a week sooner that something was wrong before he became so ill and went into Diabetic Keto-Acidosis.
This is not our providers fault by any means. Like I mentioned before, it has been phased out as a common practice in healthcare, because there is much more advanced testing available. I, however, encourage everyone to ask your healthcare providers to complete a urine screening for your child because this simple test can be lifesaving for your child/loved ones and without the use of them it could also be life changing in a way no parent, guardian or caregiver should ever have to experience. I know that whether my insurance covers the cost of these screenings or not, I will be asking my provider to complete them at every well child/sports physical my children have from now on.
We know how very lucky we are that Carter had guardian angels watching over him that day. Diabetes comes with a lot of expenses, ups and downs, sleepless nights and management, however Dusty and I will take any of those things 1000 times over as long as it means our son is still here and able to live his life to the fullest with us and the rest of his family the way it is supposed to be. Diabetes is not an easy journey, but it is most definitely one that so many know very little about. Please take the time to educate yourself and watch for the signs to help prevent yourself or someone you know from experiencing an event like our family went through on June 22, 2023. Carter was blessed with a second chance, sadly some never get that opportunity.
Carter continues to learn to deal with hyperglycemia (high blood sugars) and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Carter must monitor everything that he eats and account for all of his carbohydrates throughout the day and self-administer several insulin dosages according to the amount of carbohydrates he eats at any time. Carter now wears a medical ID bracelet at all times, and carries a diabetic bag with him wherever he goes to ensure he has the proper supplies in the event he has a medical emergency, would need to check his blood sugar, would need a correction etc. When Carter’s blood sugars drop lower than standard range this can become a medical emergency very quickly and we must raise them slowly with exactly 15 carbohydrates at a time every 15 minutes, then we recheck blood sugars and repeat this process until he is safely within range again. This can sometimes take hours. We must alert his endocrinologist no matter the time day or night and follow any additional instructions they may have for us and report blood sugars with every check. We must keep Carter awake during this process and ensure that he is well into a safe zone before he is allowed to go to sleep if this occurs in the night.
We must keep certain supplies on hand at all times, and travel with them wherever we go. Small juice boxes, glucose tablets, snacks, diabetic bag, Insulin pens long acting and short acting, Glucagon in case of an emergency, pen needles, glucose monitor, test strips, ketone strips, alcohol swabs, carbohydrate book for calculating foods, an extra CGM or continuous glucose monitor in case Carter’s becomes loose or is pulled off. This is a small needle injected into the skin that stays in your skin for a ten-day period to help monitor your glucose levels. This is transmitted through an app on your phone and alerts you if you are out of a safe range in blood sugars. This can be a life saving device for diabetics, especially in the night when diabetics may not be alert enough to know that their blood sugars have plummeted or become too high as well. Carters immune system cannot defeat what other children his age can, and therefore we must take extra precautions such as early flu vaccination for him as well as our whole family etc. He will be immunocompromised his entire life.
This article is just a very small portion of what our son and many others have gone through that have been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Please educate and spread that awareness anywhere you can, because together we can save lives!
Type 1 Diabetes Signs and Symptoms to watch for:
• Increased Thirst
• Increased Hunger
• Frequent Urination
• Weight Loss
• Dry Mouth
• Abdominal Pain
• Blurred Vision
• Nausea and Vomiting
If you notice any of these symptoms in your child or loved one please check into it further. You just may save their life, so they can still be a part of yours.
The Harper Family
Dusty, Shyla, Dallas, Kayson & Carter
Type 1 Diabetes- A condition in which your pancreas does not make insulin, or the pancreas makes very little insulin. Insulin helps your blood sugar to enter the cells of your body and be used as energy. Without insulin the blood sugar cannot enter the cells allowing it to be used for energy, and instead builds up in the blood stream.
Type 2 Diabetes- A condition in which there are high levels of glucose (Sugars) in your blood (Hyperglycemia). Also known as Adult-Onset Diabetes. In type two diabetes your cells do not respond normally to Insulin. This is known as Insulin Resistance.