Diabetes Forecast

School Walk Leads to Self-Diagnosis

A seventh grader spots the signs of type 1

By Lindsey Wahowiak ,

Emily Smith, 13, is an avid golfer

Hundreds of children take part every year in the American Diabetes Association's School Walk for Diabetes, but Emily Smith took the walk one step further: She used the information she learned at the annual fund-raiser and awareness program to diagnose herself with type 1 diabetes.

Emily, 13, will be an eighth grader at Western Sky Middle School in Goodyear, Ariz. During her school's annual School Walk for Diabetes last November, she learned about the disease's warning signs: losing weight, getting tired, going to the bathroom frequently, and drinking lots of water, among others. About a month later, Emily recognized those signs in herself. "I thought I had all those symptoms and I started to worry, 'Maybe I have this disease. Maybe I should tell my mom,' " she remembers.

However, when Emily shared her concerns, her mother, Michelle Smith, wasn't too concerned. She says she didn't know much then about diabetes and admits she dismissed her daughter's suggestion. "She told me and I kind of blew her off," Michelle Smith says. "I thought she was just being a 12-year-old girl, drinking a lot of water trying to lose weight."

A few months later, however, Emily persisted in thinking she had diabetes. She also had developed another symptom: foot pain, a possible sign of neuropathy (nerve damage). It was a wake-up call for her parents, who took her to the doctor. Emily relayed her fears to her physician, who quickly tested her blood glucose.
It was 495 mg/dl. The number was scary, but the diagnosis was a relief for Emily. It proved she had been right about her diagnosis. "I felt relieved. I have friends that are diabetic, and yeah, I was bummed out. But I know it can be controlled. I'm pretty tough; I'm pretty athletic. I thought I was in good hands."

Michelle Smith was more worried. "I was nervous and scared, probably a little bit more than she was," she says. "Emily kept saying, 'Mom, I'm worried about this, but what I've learned from the School Walk is that it can be controlled and I can do anything.' I couldn't believe my little girl was so educated and she was OK with it. I seriously think without the Walk, without the education, she wouldn't have known that she had diabetes. I think we could have taken her into the hospital a lot later, when she was more severe."

School Walk for Diabetes, which began in 1995, is held throughout the year at schools across the country. It's designed to teach children about diabetes, its symptoms, and its risks. It also helps them better understand the disease so that they feel comfortable talking about it with family and friends who may have diabetes. Anton Pratt, a physical education and health teacher at Western Sky, has organized the school's event for the past five years—and has helped the students raise enough money to become the most successful middle school in the nation three times. He believes that educating students can help them take control of their own health, just as Emily Smith did. "The reason that we started it all is I saw a 700 percent rise in the cases [of diabetes] here in our school district," Pratt says. "There was a real need to let the kids understand. We saw that we could make an impact locally."

No one looks forward to a diabetes diagnosis, but Pratt believes that Emily's story alone makes School Walk a success. "[The diagnosis] vindicated Emily. Not only did she retain the information . . . , she actually put it to use further down the road. What's better than kids teaching adults?" he asks.

Since her diagnosis in February, not much has changed for Emily. Yes, she now gives herself insulin injections, but she's still the same active teenager—golfing with her friends and participating in the school drama club. Next, she hopes to talk to other kids about diabetes. "I really want to go to other schools and really educate the kids and say, 'Hey, if you guys have these symptoms, you want to stop yourself early.' I'm glad it's a controlled disease."

For more information about School Walk for Diabetes, or to organize an event of your own, visit schoolwalk.diabetes.org.



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