Diabetes Forecast

Learning to Walk Again

A paramedic blocked my path when I arrived on the scene. "You can't go near him," he said about my 15-year-old son, Jason. "We think his legs are crushed, and if his blood pressure drops, he might not make it."

I could barely see between the emergency workers. I told them that my son had type 1 diabetes and asked if anyone had checked his blood sugar. They looked at one another. My husband, Jeff, grabbed a meter I had brought to the scene, and the workers let him through. Fortunately, Jason's blood sugar was normal.

My son was pinned under a heavy tree trunk. While emergency responders tried to free him, I learned piece by piece what had happened. Jason and his 14-year-old brother, Zach, had been walking our dog, Prince, and were cautiously climbing a mound of uprooted trees and brush that had been cleared for new housing. It seemed stable enough until Prince ventured a level higher and jumped onto a very large tree trunk, setting it in motion. It came down on Jason, and when Zach couldn't budge the tree an inch, he ran for help.

Neighbors and rescuers were quick to respond, but Jason lay trapped for about 40 minutes. Finally, using a balloon-like device, workers managed to lift the trunk enough to get Jason out and rush him to a medevac chopper. At the hospital, the doctor gave us the news: Jason didn't have any broken bones or spinal injuries, but he had nerve damage and could not move or feel his feet or legs. It might take a year for the nerves to repair themselves, the doctor said, but there was no guarantee, and Jason's diabetes would not help any.

The comment about diabetes was a blow but also an incentive: We would focus on one thing we could help Jason control. His diabetes would not impede his recovery, not if we could help it. Jason, his dad, and I calculated insulin doses and created guides for the nursing staff. When Jason eventually went to physical therapy, his nurse said he was the only patient there who managed his own blood sugars and administered his own insulin.

Five days later, Jason discovered he could wiggle one toe. We rejoiced! Five more days and he came home. He went to three days of therapy per week and did exercises in the pool of a nearby hotel. At first, it took Jason 20 minutes to cover 150 steps, but he diligently completed every exercise. I was running on empty, getting up three times a night to check his blood sugar, driving six hours a week for out-of-town therapy, and helping Zach (who also has type 1) when he broke his leg a few months after Jason's accident.

It all paid off. In eight months, Jason had regained feeling and almost full movement in both legs. His doctors were amazed at how well he had done. And diabetes didn't hurt his recovery: If anything, it made us all work harder to help Jason achieve success.

Mary Silverberg is the mother of six children, three of whom have type 1 diabetes. This story is adapted from her book, Reflections on Childhood Diabetes.



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