Type 1 diabetes is a sneaky disease.
Jason and Suzann Zinzilieta said their son, Andrew, 6, was "very moody" on his first day of kindergarten Aug. 8, 2011. At 5:30 a.m. the next day, he was lapsing in and out of consciousness, and they took him to ER. Shortly after, they were aboard a medical helicopter on their way to Phoenix Children's Hospital, where Andrew spent the next 24 hours in the intensive care unit. The diagnosis was type 1 diabetes. By Saturday of that week, he was on his way home, but not before his parents had been trained in giving insulin shots, testing blood sugar and counting carbohydrates in Andrew's diet. "We came home with a 1-1/2-inch binder with instructions for everything we needed to learn," Suzann said.
In retrospect, Jason and Suzann say diabetes had probably been creeping up on their son, because they noticed he had started drinking a lot, using the bathroom frequently and he had lost weight.
This change in the Zinzilieta family's life was abrupt, but they have adopted new habits to manage Andrew's diabetes. "We have become more organized. Planning is huge," Suzann said. For family outings and trips, they are sure to pack water, snacks, juice and Andrew's blood sugar measuring meter.
"We have to be prepared for every contingency," Jason said, and Andrew noted that on a recent trip, "we had everything we needed."
"He's adapted really well," Suzann said of her young son. He chooses the spots for the average five shots he gets each day; he chooses which finger gets the prick for the meter, and he does the latter most of the time by himself, she said.
Adjusting to the diagnosis wasn't easy for Andrew in the beginning. "It took him a while to bring his self-esteem back up," his mother said. And he worried when he got shaky or when his blood sugar level got low. But this past summer Andrew began returning to the healthy boy he was before diabetes affected his life. He attended camps, bicycled and went horseback riding.
Ask Andrew about his favorite things to do, and he will tell you that he likes playing with his older brother, Daniel, 10, "finding bugs," especially beetles, and that his favorite part of the school day is "recess."
Daniel has had his "ups and downs" too since his little brother was diagnosed with diabetes, Suzann said. But "he has adjusted just like the rest of us, once we got a routine going. We try to make special time for Daniel," she said, in light of the attention his brother has received.
That their healthy son could suffer diabetes was "shocking" for Jason and Suzann.
And now their mission, as "Family Ambassadors" for the Northern Arizona Chapter of the American Diabetes Association, is to educate others about type 1 diabetes, once called juvenile diabetes, which is more prevalent in children and teenagers than older ages.
They will participate Saturday, Oct. 20, in the Prescott Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes, which will take place at the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Reservation. The event starts and finishes at the Gathering Center of the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Reservation, at 530 E. Merritt St., in Prescott. The first event is a 5K Fun Run. Participants can check in at 6:30 a.m and start at 7 a.m. At 7:45 a.m., participants can check in for a 7-, 1.3-, or a 4-mile walk that start at 9 a.m. All routes are child and stroller-friendly.
At the conclusion of the run and walk, participants will return to the Gathering Center for a celebration, including a hot breakfast, entertainment, goody bags, auction, prizes, exhibits and more. Dogs will not be allowed in the day's activities.
People can register at diabetes.org/stepoutprescott, or call 1-888-DIABETES, ext. 7085. In addition those wanting to take part in the run and walk can contact Jim Robak, Northern Arizona coordinator, at 713-3288, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diabetes affects 26 million children and adults, in the United States. This represents 8.3 percent of the U.S. population. However, only 18.8 million have been diagnosed. People usually think of diabetes only in terms of older adults, but there has been an alarming jump among youth 10 years or older. The rate of new cases was 18.6 per 100,000 each year for type 1 diabetes, and 8.5 per 100,000 for type 2 diabetes.