This story was originally published in The Indianapolis Star on May 5, 2004.
When Jeff and Patti Castner’s son Kyle was diagnosed in December 2002 with diabetes, their lives changed.
The Wayne Township family knew virtually nothing about the disease. The news that their previously healthy 7-year-old faced a lifelong illness came as a shock.
“We took him to the doctor because of strep throat, and left with the doctor saying he could have diabetes,” Patti Castner said. “I don’t think any of us knew exactly what it meant.”
Kyle is an example, his doctors say, of how young kids can thrive despite living with a disease that afflicts a growing number of people.
Kyle has Type 1 or juvenile diabetes, which strikes roughly 2 percent of children nationwide. Each year, more than 13,000 young people are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Type 1 diabetes is definitely on the rise,” said Dr. Samuel Wentworth, a Danville physician who has diagnosed and treated diabetes since 1971. “But kids live normal lives due to today’s advancements.”
Kyle remains active in soccer and baseball and maintains straight A’s in second grade at Robey Elementary School, despite requiring four shots of insulin a day for the past year and a half. Kyle, now 8, and others like him also must have their fingers pricked more than 2,000 times a year to test blood sugar levels.
“I thought I would get over it, and eventually not have to take the shots anymore,” Kyle said.
The permanence of the situation set in much more quickly for his parents.
“That was a shock watching your child get a shot in the arm knowing it will be that way forever,” Jeff Castner said.
Those who have the disease need shots because their bodies cannot produce or use insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy.
Kyle has to get a shot in the stomach each evening at 5 p.m. The other three shots usually are given in the arm before each meal. The family adjusts its meal times around Kyle’s regimen.
But as trying as Kyle’s ordeal has been, it could have been much worse. Eighty years ago diabetes was a death sentence and people who got the disease usually died within a year.
Doctors now know how to treat the disease, and recent advances in technology have made it easier to monitor it. One of the biggest aids, the Castners say, is a glucose meter for monitoring blood sugar levels.
“I can’t imagine not having the home monitoring test,” Patti Castner said. “We take that everywhere we go and depend on it so much.”
Kyle will get one of the newer advances — an insulin pump — in June. The device pumps insulin into the stomach through a tube that stays in for three days. The pump, which looks like a pager on the user’s belt, cuts down on the number of shots and gives the patient more freedom.
Researchers are working on even more advances, Wentworth said.
“There is a new study on prevention, and there is a lot being done on transplanting pancreas cells, but the big problem right now is rejection,” Wentworth said. “I anticipate the treatment to improve in this generation, and we could possibly find a cure.”
Like Wentworth, Robey Elementary school nurse Shirley Turner has noticed a rise in cases at her school. Until four years ago, Turner said, the school had no more than one student with diabetes each year, and sometimes none. Since then, she has helped monitor two students with diabetes each year.
Informed parents, such as the Castners, have made her job easier though, she said.
“We are a closer family because this wakes you up to how fragile life really is,” Jeff said. “Parents need to be thankful for the health of their children, because that health can be taken away in an instant.”