By Dale Woodard on May 28, 2021.
A family with two children diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes is reaching out to other families to let them know they’re not alone.
For Melissa and Kyle Zimmermann – whose sons Carter, 12 and Tucker, 11 – both live with Type 1 diabetes, the message is life can go on normally.
“If you get a diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes, it has the opportunity to take over your whole life, or it can be a part of your life,” said Melissa. “For us, it’s really important that it’s just a small part of our kids’ life.”
Carter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was a little over a year old.
“From there, my husband and I spent four days immersive learning all things diabetes because we really had no understanding before this.”
Tucker was six years old when he received his diagnosis.
However, after what his older sibling went through, the news came with a little more familiarity.
“Because of Carter’s diagnosis, Tucker was in a study which was researching the effects and the connection between siblings and other family members,” said Melissa. “They were looking for the antibodies that are positive in other people with Type 1 diabetes and he slowly developed those antibodies.”
Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease that kills off all the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, said Melissa.
“Their pancreas does not produce any insulin. After diagnosis there is a period called the honeymooning period where the body still has a little bit of insulin producing, but at some point the insulin will stop producing altogether.”
Though she and Kyle now reach out to other families affected by Type 1 diabetes, Melissa said Carter’s diagnosis was very difficult for her and her husband.
“It was definitely a grief process going through the stages of grief with denial and anger and finally acceptance. But it did take a couple of years where I was accepting of this condition and this was going to be our family’s life for the rest of our life,” she said.
Understandably, dealing with two Type 1 diabetes cases immediately changed the Zimmermann’s day-to-day lives.
“Until you have this in your family you don’t really know. It really changes everything,” said Melissa. “The primary things we focus on as far as diabetes care are carbohydrate intake, which raises your blood sugar levels, and matching that with insulin, which lowers your glucose levels, and playing that balance between the two forever.”
At night, Melissa said she and Kyle check their sons’ glucose twice to make sure they’re on target.
“In a perfect world where situations are the same every day, their glucose levels would stay more stable, but when you have a 12-year-old and an 11-year-old and they want to play outside today and play video games tomorrow, things are kind of all over the place.”
New technology such as the Abbott FreeStyle Libre 2 has also given Carter and Tucker the chance to live normal day-to-day lives while still checking their levels.
“It’s a sensor that stays on their arm and they can scan it with their phone,” said Melissa. “It shows your glucose readings and you can send it to parents or caregivers through an app. It’s made a huge difference in our lives, specifically sports. They’re boys and they’re filthy and running around, but this allows them to quickly check their glucose levels without having to stop and wash their hands and a finger poke.”
In 2010, shortly after Carter’s diagnosis, Melissa and Kyle got involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, an organization in Canada which raises funds and awareness for Type 1 diabetes.
Through that, they became a mentor family.
Melissa said she usually connects with mothers of newly-diagnosed children.
“I just offer an ear and a little bit of a message that you can survive this, it will get better. Because those first couple of years are very difficult,” she said. “For me, it’s very important. I had a couple of mentors in our first couple of years. I’ve called them at 3 a.m. in tears. If I didn’t have that backup and that encouragement and that community of support, I don’t know how well we would have gotten through it or where we would be today.”
Some of the questions Melissa gets from parents’ circle around child care, schooling and sleepovers or simply allowing their child out of their sight.Â
“Which can be very scary, allowing your child to be independent and not having them right beside you to monitor their glucose levels.”
Melissa and Kyle continue to offer advice to newly-diagnosed families.
“I’m always on the list and from time to time I get the calls or get the connections with new people,” she said. “As a family we share our diabetes journey on our Instagram and our social media and share as much awareness and information as we possibly can. We’re continually fundraising for JDRF and for other diabetes organizations in Canada.”
The Zimmermann’s share their journey with diabetes on their family Instagram page at MelissaaZimmermann.
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