The Everyday Miracles We Choose to See: Being a Parent and Grandparent of Children with Type 1 Diabetes

Posted by therese on Thu, 01/24/2013 - 15:24 in

Therese Balistrieri lives in Wisconsin and has been a stay-at-home-mom since her son Joey was diagnosed with diabetes in 2009. Therese and her husband Joe are active in their community, coordinating fundraising projects and serving as coaches for many of the activities Joey participates in such as football, basketball and forensics. Therese started blogging to try and educate others about the reality of type 1 diabetes.

My daughter on the other hand was relentless with learning about type 1 diabetes. She read books, entered group discussions online - she really took type 1 diabetes by the horns and ran with it, and we learned from her. One unfortunate thing that we learned was that if you don't have diabetes, or have someone living in your home with it, it's very challenging to understand. We weren't able to babysit our grandson as much as we would’ve liked to, because we weren't very comfortable managing his diabetes.Our journey with type 1 diabetes began in 2007 with the diagnosis of our grandson Cooper; he was only 22 months old. My husband Joe and I, along with our two boys, Tony, then 10, and Joey, then 6, tried to learn as much as we could about diabetes. I went with my daughter and her husband to the hospital for the diabetes classes, but I didn't really understand the severity of the disease or how to manage it.

Gaining Confidence with Diabetes Management

Within months of my grandson's diagnosis, my daughter started talking about getting him on an insulin pump. She came over one day with three different pump styles from different manufacturers.  To me it was like looking at something from the future. What the heck was an insulin pump? Some had tubes that delivered the insulin from this little pager-sized unit (I’m aging myself) and one was tubing free, the Omnipod, which is the one she chose.

Then after one year with type 1 diabetes, my grandson was officially "pumping." And here we went again trying to figure out something new about managing his diabetes. But we were pleasantly surprised that it was easier to use than the calculator and syringe. We loved it. It gave us the confidence we needed to babysit for our grandson, which to us was priceless.

More Diabetes Life Changes

joey-and-cooper-jdrf-walkFast forward 19 months to Mother's Day, May 10th, 2009. Normally we would have a family gathering for Mother's Day, but this year was going to be different. Joe had to work, so it was just going to be me and the boys. I spent the day before with my daughter, so she was going to spend the day with her husband's family. The boys and I were hanging out in the living room. I was reading the paper and they were wrestling around on the floor. My then 8-year-old Joey stood up and said, "I just peed in my pants." We laughed and I probably said something like, "Next time don't wait so long to go and this won't happen!"

At about noon my daughter called and said she couldn't stand to go without stopping in to say Happy Mother's Day. They came over later and we started talking about an upcoming time when I’d be watching my grandson Cooper. I told her that I'd like to practice taking a blood sugar measurement, because it had been so long since I babysat him.

What happened next was nothing short of a miracle (I'll tell you why I think so a bit later). My son-in-law asked my son Joey to be my guinea pig. I couldn't believe it. I said, "There is no way Joey's going to let me prick his finger!"  My son in-law then offered Joey a trip to the store for a toy if he would. To my disbelief he said "YES." After all, how badly could it hurt if his little nephew did it? So as everyone watched, I tested his blood sugar. When I looked at the blood glucose monitor, which said 466, I didn't even flinch until my daughter grabbed my leg so hard I jumped.  Then I heard my son-in-law say, “Joey, go wash your hands and come back so we can try again. There must be food on your hands." He washed and we repeated to get a 462. We were trying to remain calm, knowing that our lives were going to change yet again.

My daughter and I ran out so I could privately call a family friend who is a pediatrician. My daughter wanted us to go to Children's Hospital - she was worried about his blood sugar being so high. Our friend said to stay away from there because it was during the swine flu outbreak. He didn't want us taking the chance of Joey getting sick on top of having type 1 diabetes. I remembered what it was like two years earlier and all the tests that they put my grandson through. I couldn't go through that again. Our friend told me to come in the next morning to see our pediatrician and we'd go from there. Like he said, "One day wouldn't make a difference."

The ironic thing was that I had Joey's annual appointment already scheduled for 9:00 the next morning; they didn't even have to fit us in. Our doctor confirmed that Joey had type 1 diabetes and it was the hardest thing I ever had to tell my little boy. I'll never forget sitting in the room at the doctor’s office, holding back the tears so he didn't get upset. When we told him, he cried. He knew what it was like to have type 1 diabetes - he'd watched his nephew live with it for the past two years.

The Miraculous Chain of Events

Here are the reasons that I think it's remarkable and miraculous that the events leading up to Joey's diabetes diagnosis happened the way they did.

  1. My daughter wasn't supposed to be coming over that day. She said she felt drawn to come.
  2. Joey was starting to show warning signs, i.e. wetting his pants that very morning.
  3. I had just taken medical leave to have major back surgery that next week. I would have been down for three months.  And, the doctor said if I would have had the surgery with Joey's A1C where it was, he would have gone into ketoacidosis around the same time. Can you imagine my poor husband and family, having two of us in different hospitals, not to mention that I would have been crazy with worry about Joey?
  4. Joey let me prick his finger. That was the biggest miracle of all.

Fast forward three years later: Joey is doing great.  He’s playing sports, participates in forensics tournaments (study of formal debate, public discussion and argumentation) at school and is getting good grades.  And he's using the same Omnipod insulin pump System that my daughter so diligently researched all those years earlier. I feel like we were blessed with Joey's diagnosis being delivered the way it was. We believe in miracles and choose to see them when they are presented to us.