More children affected by diabetes
Ansley Hawkins, center, joins her cousins, Charlie, right, and Alexandria, and her sister, Bailey, left, for a walk to raise awareness and funds for diabetes research on October 20, 2012, in Atlanta, Georgia. Ansley, 14, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age two. (Jonathan Phillips/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/MCT)
Ansley Hawkins, right, sorts through clothes with her mother, Christina, at home on October 19, 2012, in Atlanta, Georgia. Ansley, 14, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age two. (Kent D. Johnson/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/MCT)
Days after Ansley Hawkins led a group of friends and family on a walk against diabetes, a white sign announcing Team Sugar Kids still sat in her family’s Powder Springs, Ga., living room.
Like the Disney memorabilia scattered throughout the room, the placard represented a significant moment in the life of the 14-year-old.
But unlike her Disney experience, what Hawkins had done was hardly child’s play. This was serious.
Hawkins, who at age 2 was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, was on a mission to further the cause of JDRF, formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. That includes, among other things, educating people about the differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and helping the organization raise money for research.
Hawkins is one of nearly 26 million Americans who have diabetes. And according to JDRF, more than 15,000 children and 15,000 adults each year — approximately 80 people per day — are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in the U.S.
In Type 1 diabetes, people stop making insulin altogether, while someone with Type 2 diabetes makes insulin but their body cannot use it or it is not producing enough.
“It is estimated that one in every three children born today will have Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime if the current trend of overweight and inactivity in children continues,” said Sue Tocher, diabetes education coordinator at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “It’s a serious problem.” Both types need to be managed with the help of an endocrinologist or health care professional who specializes in diabetes, Tocher said.
“If not managed properly, diabetes can lead to complications such as kidney failure, blindness, heart disease and amputations,” she said.
What’s driving Hawkins, the teen said, is the disease’s impact on her mother, Christina.
“My mom two years ago went into renal diabetes kidney failure and had to start dialysis,” she said. “It really hurt to see what the disease had done to her. I wanted to get out there and educate more people about the disease.”
Christina Hawkins, 38, was diagnosed with diabetes at age 14.
She was in the hospital with the flu in 2008 when doctors discovered her kidneys were failing. On July 6, 2011, three days after her 37th birthday, she received a new kidney and pancreas and was rendered diabetes-free.
By then, Ansley Hawkins’ mind was made up.
“I needed to get involved,” she said.
In addition to forming Team Sugar Kids, the North Cobb Christian School freshman created a Facebook page called Diabetes for Teens to share news about the disease and to provide a forum for those with diabetes to talk and share their stories and get information. And a few weeks ago, she created instadiabetes to share pictures of her daily life, which includes an insulin pump and monitoring her diet.
“I’ve already met two other children with diabetes and 26 have liked the site,” she said.
Tocher said that it’s really important to distinguish between the two types of diabetes and educate the public.
“Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that is not preventable,” she said. “Children with Type 1 diabetes inherit a gene from both parents that puts them at risk.”
When Ansley Hawkins was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2000, although the diagnosis occurred in children, it wasn’t as prevalent in babies. This is not the case anymore, Tocher said.
“Type 1 diabetes rates continue to go up, and this is true in really small children, age 5 and younger,” she said. “In 2011, almost 20 percent of the newly diagnosed children we saw were in that age group.”
Although Type 1 diabetes does not always run in families like Type 2 does, the Hawkins family tree had a lot of it on both sides. Both Christina Hawkins’ mother and grandfather are Type 2 diabetics.
And on her father’s side, Ansley’s aunt has Type 1 diabetes.
Ansley had a diaper rash that wouldn’t go away when her mother took her to see a pediatrician. When doctors finally checked her blood sugar, it was between 500-600. A healthy level is between 60-120.
Although Ansley’s younger sister, Bailey, is diabetes-free, research shows that siblings of children with Type 1 diabetes have a 3 to 5 percent chance of getting Type 1 diabetes, Tocher said. Children who get Type 2 diabetes often have a very strong family history.
The good news, Tocher said, is this: With early diagnosis and interventions, diabetics can avoid the long-term complications of diabetes by, among other things, self-checking their blood glucose, taking medications as prescribed, measuring the carbohydrates in their diet and staying active.