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Reading and â€™riting and â€™rithmetic, counting carbs to the tune of a finger stick . . .Â
Or so the song might go for schoolchildren living with diabetes. But for some those â€śdear old Golden Rule daysâ€ť seem long gone.
According to the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi, type 1 children already facing lifetimes of glucose testing, carbohydrate counting and insulin injections or pumps have been turned away from several of the stateâ€™s best known federally and privately funded schools and early-learning programs.
â€śWhen a family gets a diagnosis of type 1, finding a school that will take care of your child should not be the hardest thing you have to do, especially since that is where kids spend most of their time,â€ť said Jameskia Lacey, a pharmacist whose daughter Taylar, 6, was diagnosed with type 1 in March.
â€śThat was the hardest part for our family.â€ť
Taylar was rejected by two religiously affiliated schools, despite intervention by the Diabetes Foundation, which often acts as a liaison between parents and schools. â€śOne cited insurance liability concerns and abruptly left it at that,â€ť Lacey said. (Apparently, â€śDo unto othersâ€ť has its limitations.)
The risks and inconveniences that accompany type 1 diabetes are real. And educatorsâ€™ fears may be compounded by the way it is treated today, with multiple injections and finger sticks as opposed to the single morning shot of yore.Â
Nevertheless, Taylar was welcomed by the Jackson Public Schoolsâ€™ McLeod Elementary.
â€śJPS was wonderful, and McLeod embraced Taylar,â€ť Lacey said. â€śAt first they were a little nervous, but they did everything they could to help us, and the principal made sure at least four staff members knew how to take care of Taylar.â€ť
The foundation did its part too, meeting with McLeodâ€™s teachers and principal, and conducting its Sweet Subject training program for school personnel.
â€śWe went over how to recognize the signs and symptoms of low blood glucose and how to respond,â€ť said Irena McClain, associate director of the Diabetes Foundation. â€śI brought our glucagon demo kit and told them how to use it appropriately â€” and to call 911 and the parents if it was ever used.â€ť (Glucagon is an injectable hormone that quickly raises glucose levels.)
To show their appreciation for the foundation, Taylar Lacey and her family will be among those taking part in Mississippiâ€™s Walk for Diabetes-Metro Jackson on Oct. 7 at Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Co.Â
In August of last year, 30 Mississippi children were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, reportedly double the number diagnosed in a single month the previous year.
Their families should not have to negotiate a bureaucratic jungle gym to enroll them in school, said Mary Fortune, executive vice president of the Diabetes Foundation.
â€śOur message has always been that our children can do anything they want with their lives,â€ť said Fortune, who has had type 1 for more than 50 years and counts many Mississippi children living with diabetes as her own. â€śFull participation in school activities is part of that.â€ť
Out of that conviction came the Diabetes Foundationâ€™s Sweet Subject program. As Fortuneâ€™s protege, McClain trains school personnel all over the state in how to use blood glucose meters, how to interpret the numbers, how to recognize and respond to signs of high and low blood sugar, and how to handle lockdowns, field trips, parties and classroom testing.
â€śIâ€™ve put 250,000 miles on my Honda Pilot in 15 years of crisscrossing Mississippi for the DFM,â€ť she said.
â€śI mentored Irena upon her arrival here, but she didnâ€™t need much with her background in diabetes research at Stanford and the University of California, San Diego,â€ť Fortune said. â€śShe caught on quickly.â€ť
McClain is a tireless advocate, especially for children. For instance, during a field trip to a local museum Taylar Lacey was abruptly told by security officials to throw away her emergency snack.
â€śI wrote a letter to the head of the museum detailing what had happened and the importance of fast-acting sugar for someone with diabetes,â€ť McClain said. â€śI also sent them copies of our low and high blood glucose protocols and talked to the head of the museum and the security agency to ensure this mistake was never made again for any child or adult with diabetes.â€ť
Even in the best cases, when a school is more than willing to admit the child, parents must file complex forms prescribing insulin dosages, low blood sugar treatments and other procedures.
Said Tracie Riggin of Brandon, whose 6-year-old daughter Sophie was diagnosed with type 1 at age 3: â€śThat is the most challenging aspect of all this. But you need to have these in place to ensure that your child has the best opportunity to excel at school, and that the teacher has ample resources to treat both high and low blood sugar.â€ť
Before transferring to Rankin County School Districtâ€™s Rouse Elementary, Sophie was enrolled in Miss Mandyâ€™s Christian Daycare in Brandon, and she was met with enthusiastic acceptance at both.
Mandy Still, director of Miss Mandyâ€™s, brought in the Diabetes Foundation to conduct a Sweet Subject program with her entire staff. â€śEvery time she changed grades she would need a new teacher, so we all got educated,â€ť Still said, adding that she had given Sophie many blood sugar tests.
Calculating carbohydrates is critical to managing diabetes, and Still said she had logged the carb content of the food in her pantry â€śdown to every Saltine.â€ť
Tracie Riggin is grateful.
â€śSophie has a great support system that ranges from us, her parents and grandparents, all the way to Miss Mandyâ€™s Daycare and her school, school nurse and teachers at Rouse Elementary,â€ť she said. â€śThey have accommodated Sophieâ€™s extra requirements with complete understanding, empathy and changes to their routines to ensure that she is taken care of and her diabetes monitored.â€ť
Riggin said she hopes the diabetes walk will allow Sophie to see â€śhow many other children are just like her.â€ť
â€śThe walk makes her feel a part of a group of children who have to face the day-to-day issues of their diabetes management.â€ť
Meanwhile, McClain said, those schools that still create barriers to type 1 kids are adding a generous serving of insult to injury.
And how do you count the carbs in that?
What: Mississippiâ€™s Walk for Diabetes-Metro Jackson
Where: Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Co.
When: Sunday, Oct. 7, with registration at 1 p.m. and ribbon-cutting at 2
Theme: â€śWe are Familyâ€ťâ€”honoring all Mississippi kids and adults living with diabetes, and in memory of John Reed and Mary Turner
There is a $25 suggested minimum donation. Every dollar raised stays in the state to support the programs and services of the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi, including Camp Kandu for children with diabetes and their families.
For information on corporate sponsorships, forming a team or individual participation, call the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi at (601) 957-7878 or visit msdiabetes.org.
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