Ernestine Wagner, of Marion, Ala., knew something was wrong with her then-2-year-old son Caleb Brooks. He wasn’t eating and was beginning to lose weight. She took him to the nearest pediatric clinic 30 miles away in Selma, but doctors assured her that Caleb was healthy and his disinterest in food would soon pass.
“Then one day he was just irritable,” Ernestine recalls. “He didn’t want to do anything but drink, drink, drink!” He also was urinating more than usual, so much so that he developed a painful diaper rash. Ernestine, a nurse, recognized the symptoms immediately. She drove her son to the nursing home where she works and checked his blood sugar. It registered 639 mg/dL – about 500 points higher than normal.
“I was freaked out,” she says. She drove her son straight to the emergency room where he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Doctors immediately started him on IV fluids and insulin, and then sent him to Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham where he stayed for about 3 days until his blood sugar was brought down to normal levels. “I could see a big improvement in him then,” Ernestine says.
While Caleb received treatment, Ernestine was being given an education by the Children’s staff on type 1 diabetes and training on how to keep her young son healthy. She would be responsible for keeping him on a strict schedule with regular meals and snacks, finger pricks to test blood sugar levels, and insulin injections. Hospital staff also assured her that if she had any questions, support was just a phone call away.
It has been more than two years since Caleb was diagnosed, and Ernestine has mastered her son’s schedule. He is on two types of insulin –one, he takes once a day and the other, after meals. He eats a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner, and has scheduled snacks between meals. She even leaves work during the day so she can give him his insulin shot after lunch, and has a timer set so preschool workers will remember to give him regular snacks. The school also has a machine so they can check his blood sugar during the day and notify Ernestine if it is too high or low.
“It’s like a fulltime job,” she says. “But it’s important for him, and he’s worth it.”
Briley Teague was 7 years old when her pediatrician pulled her mother, Angie, aside and said, “Your life is about to change.”
Angie had been concerned when her daughter began complaining about being thirsty all the time. “She’d guzzle down a lot of water and then five minutes later she wanted more,” she recalls. “Then at one point I noticed she looked like she had lost weight.”
The pediatrician ran tests and diagnosed Briley with type 1 diabetes. She was sent immediately to Children’s of Alabama. The diagnosis was shocking to Briley in particular because she said she didn’t even feel sick. “But I told her that the tests showed a lot of glucose in her bloodstream and her kidneys were showing the same thing,” she says. “So I had to say, ‘sorry, honey, but you are sick.’”
Briley was admitted to Children’s, where they began treating her condition. Then, both Briley and her family were given an education on type 1 diabetes, and told about the importance of staying on a regular schedule, and taught by the staff how to check blood glucose levels, count carbohydrates, and give insulin injections.
When doctors released Briley from the hospital, “I felt like I was coming home with a new baby,” Angie recalls. “We’ve known this child for 7 years and now we have a whole new set of rules. It was very scary.”
Briley was the strong one of the family, Angie recalls. “It was her father and I who were struggling. Here we were trying to give her injections but she was the one who was very stoic, very strong through it all.”
It has been more than 5 years since Briley was first diagnosed with diabetes. Now a seventh-grader, she is in control of her own schedule. She now uses an insulin pump that delivers insulin 24 hours a day. She checks her blood-glucose levels 8-10 times a day and if she needs more insulin, she just pushes a few buttons on her pump. There is also a nurse at the school aware of Briley’s condition who can assist her if she needs it.
“She’s very responsible,” Angie says. “She understands this is what she has to do to live a normal life.”
By all other appearances, Briley is leading the life of a typical 13-year-old. She is a straight-A student who loves hanging out with friends and going on mission trips with her church youth group.
“She lives a full, productive life,” Angie says. “She is just a blessing.”
When Briana Kinsey competes in the Miss Alabama pageant this June, she will come with a message – to encourage children to stay active and make sure they are eating healthy foods in order to prevent diabetes.
“Diabetes is a big issue in Alabama,” says the former Miss Birmingham and current Miss Hoover. “We’re the state with the highest rate of diabetes in the nation.”
Briana became an advocate for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes when her mother was diagnosed with diabetes two years ago. She was living at home at the time and the diagnoses affected the entire family. “It made us much more health conscious as a family. We started paying attention to food proportions and making sure we ate something at each meal, because before we didn’t. Diabetes kind of brought us together in a way.”
Briana wanted to deliver her message to children in particular, especially since in recent years, with childhood obesity rates increasing in the United States, more children and adolescents are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a condition that used to be considered an adult-only disease.
To get a better understanding of diabetes and how it affects children, Briana began shadowing doctors at Children’s of Alabama’s endocrine clinic and working at a camp for children with both types of diabetes. This gave her insight into how children live with diabetes on a day-to-day basis.
She also took her “healthy lifestyle” message on the road, speaking at schools and helping with diabetes fundraisers.
“Most children probably don’t understand what diabetes is,” she says. “So the main thing I try to tell children is to stay active and make sure they are getting a healthy diet. That’s really all they can do. Having a healthy lifestyle can have a huge impact on whether they develop diabetes.”
Briana has also found a way to use her diabetes platform to propel her own plans for the future. She is currently a student at the University of Alabama majoring in biology with a concentration in pre-medical studies. “My mother is a physician, so I always knew I wanted to do something in the medical field,” she says. “This has been a way to connect my platform to what I want to do later on when I graduate.”