Sammamish girl takes charge of diabetes diagnosis

May 1, 2013

By Lillian O'Rorke

The week before Thanksgiving early this year, 11-year-old Maddie Fletcher found out she had type 1 diabetes.

Her parents had taken her to the doctor because she was exhausted and felt like her brain was in a fog. Her legs were cramping and she was having pain in her chest, but an autoimmune disease in which the body produces little to no insulin was not the diagnosis Maddie and her family were expecting.

“It was a total shock,” said Kate Fletcher, Maddie’s mom. “It’s a big learning curve all at once, because you have to get it under control right away.”

Maddie Fletcher

Maddie Fletcher

The family spent the next four days in the hospital, getting Maddie’s blood sugar levels back down to normal and learning about how to manage the disease. A person with type 1 diabetes has to take insulin — which helps breakdown food into energy for the body — every day in order to live.

Maddie has to test her blood sugar levels at least four to five times a day, more if she is playing sports, and has to give herself insulin injections before every meal and before she goes to bed.

“When we first came into the hospital I was afraid of needles,” Maddie said. “It’s huge to change from taking 20 minutes to do it, to bam – its done.”

It’s also a hassle, she explained, because if she wants to go anywhere with friends or on a field trip, she has to plan ahead. Calculating how much insulin she will need depends on what kind of food she will eat that day or what activity they are doing.

“A lot of my friends are disgusted by me doing my testing and insulin,” Maddie added. “I tell them that it’s sort of necessary for me.”

When she can, she said she often will slip off to the restroom to do it.

“If I’m really low, that’s something that definitely, I can’t wait,” she explained. “If I am in the middle of school…I can’t wait to go up to the nurses office.”

Maddie is not alone. She said she knows of around a dozen other kids at her school, Inglewood Middle School, that have type 1 diabetes. One girl in particular who has had the disease for longer, Maddie said, helps her out with advice and encouragement. Maddie’s mom also has found some comrades in her family’s new battle. Through the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, there is a Sammamish Plateau support group for young children with the disease and their families. Kate estimates there are about 15 other moms in the group.

“When you look at the population of the plateau, I was kind of surprised,” Kate said.

Ryan Mitchell, owner of Sammamish Café, said that since he found out two years ago that his 7-year-old had type 1, he has found that parents band together.

“Everyone wants to help each other out because it is so difficult to live with. Its basically worse for us than it is for the kids,” he said. “Especially when they are that young, it is the most difficult thing in the world to conceive your child having a seizure, or not waking up because his blood-glucose levels got too low.”

On a positive note, Mitchell added, his son is doing great and still runs around and does all things that kids should be doing. He and his family now take part in the annual Beat The Bridge fundraiser for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation as “Team Parker.” As well, Café Inc., which owns Sammamish Café, is an official sponsor of the event.

“It is a huge problem,” Mitchell said, explaining that two years ago his son was the only child at his school who had diabetes. Now, he said, there are six other kids there with the disease. “Anyone who wants to grow up and have a family needs to work to try to fix this.”

The Fletchers are getting involved this year too. Their team, “Mad for a Cure,” is planning to take part in the four-mile walk, which is just one part of the May 19 event. So far, the team of 10 hasn’t raised much money, but it is hoping to change that. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 4, Maddie and her mother are partnering with Sammamish Café to raise money for the team.

“If we could raise $1,000 that would be great,” Kate said.

They will have an informational booth set up outside the restaurant, where people can learn about the diabetes and Beat the Bridge.

When they make a donation, they will get a paper shoe to put on a banner the team plans to carry as they walk the four miles. People can either make donations directly at the booth or can add it to their Café bill.

“I want to make sure they find a cure for people that have it,” Maddie said. “This was not something we planned…it sort of came up from behind and hit us. But it was definitely something we could learn to live with.”

Kate is proud of the way her daughter has handled her diagnosis.

“It’s great. At her age, it’s a fine line between wanting people to know. You work so hard to not be different in sixth grade,” Kate said. “She is my hero – the way she has just done it.”

More information about the four-mile walk and other events to benefit diabetes research May 19 can be found at www.beatthebridge.org.

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