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Living with Type 1 diabetes as a teen

By The Health News Team | November 29, 2021
Kate Green of San Diego

Kate Green is a dynamic 13-year-old competitive dancer who doesn’t let her Type 1 diabetes hold her back. PHOTO CREDIT: Leigh Castelli Photography

When Kate Green was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 10 in 2018, her family knew their lives were about to change. Not only did Kate’s parents, Brooke and Ryan, and her younger brother, Garrison, suddenly worry about Kate’s health more than they ever had before, they also had to quickly adapt to the new technology, medications and routines Kate’s illness required.

“It was like drinking water from a firehose — completely overwhelming,” Brooke says. “I was upset, stressed, scared, sleep-deprived, you name it. But I knew the more we learned and practiced what we were learning, the better we all would feel.”

Now, three years since her diagnosis, Kate and her family proudly share that they have a solid grasp on managing her Type 1 diabetes — or T1, as Kate calls it — with the help of a Rady Children’s Hospital endocrinologist and Dr. Michael Martin, a board-certified pediatrician and internal medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. It doesn’t seem to affect her lifestyle — or the lives of her family members — nearly as much as they once thought it would.

Kate Green of San Diego and her family

Kate, Ryan, Brooke and Garrison Green -- along with their puppy Penny -- work together to manage Kate's type 1 diabetes. PHOTO CREDIT: Leigh Castelli Photography

Since her diagnosis, the family has traveled to Maui, Lake Powell, Boston and Mexico, and regularly enjoys movies, bowling, mini-golf, and walks with their puppy, Penny. Kate, a competitive dancer, is in the dance studio for more than 14 hours each week and loves to go shopping, ride bikes and swim with friends.

“T1 does not limit Kate in any way,” Brooke says. “She has been managing her diabetes more and more on her own. Often, we will text her that something is ‘off,’ and she responds that she is already on it. We could not be more proud of her.”

T1 tech helps the family manage
Brooke and Ryan know when something is “off” — either Kate’s blood sugar level is too high or too low — even when they’re not with her. The family uses state-of-the-art technology and apps to constantly monitor her levels and automatically administer insulin as needed.

“I went on an insulin pump, the Omnipod,” Kate says. “It’s wireless, and it prevents me from having to give myself shots every time I eat. It automatically gives me a little insulin all day long. And I use a device called a personal diabetes manager, or PDM, that looks like a phone, to tell my pump how much insulin to give me when I eat or have a snack.”

The pump — a waterproof, wearable pod that attaches to the skin — can also correct Kate’s blood sugar level at any time throughout the day or night by administering insulin if her level becomes too high or reducing her insulin if it is too low. And Kate uses a Dexcom continuous glucose monitor — a small sensor attached to her skin — to tell her what her blood sugar number is throughout the day, so she can avoid several daily finger pricks.

“My parents can follow my blood sugar numbers at all times through the Dexcom app on their phones,” Kate says. “And I have an Apple Watch that vibrates when there is a problem.”

Brooke also relies on a Dexcom companion app called Sugarmate that can call her phone when Kate’s blood sugar gets too low, which is especially helpful if Kate doesn’t respond to her monitor’s warning alarms at night. “You get used to the alarms, so it is good to have something different to alert you,” Kate says.

Kate and her family have become more attuned to her nutritional needs as well, which led to improved nutrition for them all. “I definitely notice how much sugar and carbs are in foods,” Kate says. “I still eat whatever I want. And if I stay away from something, it is usually not because of my diabetes, but because it is not what I should be filling my body with because I am so active.”

This teen with Type 1 has hope for the future
And while Kate is determined to not allow her Type 1 diabetes to affect her or her lifestyle, she is, after all, a teenager. She can occasionally feel embarrassed about the devices that help keep her blood sugar at healthy levels, whether it’s because of the noises they make or how they look.

“I wear two devices at all times, and I am very self-conscious about them being seen by people,” she says. “I tend to wear them only in spots that are hidden by clothing.”

To address the risk of drawing unwanted attention in the middle of class at school or in the dance studio, Brooke says the Apple Watch will discreetly vibrate when there is a blood sugar level problem, rather than sounding a loud alarm. With the watch, “your kiddo can also see your text messages immediately, so if you see a problem, you can alert them more quickly,” she says.

But even with all the tools and tech available to people with Type 1 diabetes, Kate tells other kids recently diagnosed with T1 to listen to their body and to trust their gut about how they are feeling. “There have been moments where I have felt my low blood sugar before my device picked it up,” she says. She also encourages them to not let the diagnosis hold them back.

“I would tell a newly diagnosed teen with T1 to stick to the things they love doing — don’t let it limit you,” Kate says. “I am dancing more now than I did three years ago, and I have more friends now than I did then.”

Kate, currently in the eighth grade, is also looking forward to what comes next. She hopes to be a part of the high school dance team and participate in student politics. And she can’t wait to go to football games and dances.

She is equally hopeful about future innovations to manage and treat T1.

“I hope that the devices become smaller and more discreet, and I would like them to last longer — I have to change my Dexcom every 10 days and my pump every 3 days,” she says. “And I obviously hope for a cure. I think everyone battling a disease wants that.”

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