“It’s a worldwide crisis as we realize how devastating and expensive it is.”
Rebecca Moody is in many ways a typical second-grader. She loves American Girl dolls, hula hoops and swings, does well in school — particularly math — and enjoys jumping rope, riding her bike and playing softball and volleyball.
Despite being an active kid, Rebecca does not lead a completely typical 8-year-old’s life. She visits a pediatric endocrinologist every three months. She has endured hundreds of needle sticks in her arms and thighs, and nearly 2,000 in her fingers. Each summer, she attends a camp where she can meet and play with other kids who are just like her.
Rebecca has Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes. Worldwide, the incidence of this type of diabetes has increased every decade for the past 70 years. Specialists at Norton Children’s Hospital and the University of Louisville care for more than 1,200 children with Type 1 diabetes each year.
“Diabetes is not just a state or national crisis,” said Kupper A. Wintergerst, M.D., pediatric endocrinologist at Norton Children’s Hospital and associate professor of pediatrics at University of Louisville School of Medicine. “It’s a worldwide crisis as we realize how devastating and expensive it is.”
Type 1 diabetes differs from Type 2 diabetes, which is more commonly diagnosed in adults. Type 2 causes the body to become resistant to the insulin it produces and results in high blood sugars. Type 2 diabetes often can be attributed to weight gain, poor diet and lack of activity. People with Type 1 diabetes, for which there currently is no cure, must test their blood sugar several times per day. Treatment includes multiple insulin injections or use of an insulin pump every day, along with proper diet and exercise.
“Rebecca did not like the shots,” said her mother, Wendy Moody. “In the beginning she would tell me not to hurt her, and she would run away. That was enough to stop me in my tracks. As parents, we don’t want to hurt our children; we want to fix things for them.”
Today Rebecca wears an insulin pump around her abdomen, which takes the place of daily injections.
“As we’ve changed her insulin management plan, so has she with being a part of it,” Wendy said. “She has had to grow up and couldn’t just be an 8-year-old child.”
Rebecca was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was just 2 years old.
“The only way I could describe it is that she was not herself — she was in a funk,” Wendy said. “She was drinking a lot and making many trips to the bathroom, but at 2 years old, we didn’t think much of that. What we noticed was behavioral — how she would just melt down, start crying for no reason, not wanting to do much of anything.”
Wendy’s concern prompted her to take her daughter to the doctor, who ran some tests, including blood sugar. Rebecca’s blood sugar level tested high.
“We were sent directly to Norton Children’s Hospital, where we learned her blood sugar was near 700,” Wendy said. “A normal range is 80 to 120. This began a new chapter for our family — having a child with a chronic illness.
“I cried that first night at home, wondering why all of this was happening to our baby. I prayed for the wisdom to carry on through this news.”
Dr. Wintergerst provided much of that wisdom for the Moody family.
“Dr. Wintergerst became our mentor, doctor and hope,” Wendy said. “When Rebecca was released from the hospital, I spent the next three days talking with him each morning to review her previous day, insulin amounts, blood sugar readings. He gave me the confidence to manage diabetes. I know that I can share questions and discuss options on our diabetes management, and he gives 100 percent of his attention to our family during our visits.”
Despite the lifestyle change, Type 1 diabetes hardly slows Rebecca down.
“Diabetes doesn’t keep me from doing anything I like to do,” she said. “I would tell someone who is diagnosed that they should not worry, that there are lots of camps you can go to in the summer to meet other kids with diabetes, and you can still do anything you want to do.”
Wendy said she feels like Dr. Wintergerst and his staff are on this journey with Rebecca.
“They have watched her grow from a small toddler to an energetic, happy and outgoing 8-year-old,” she said. “They know who she is — she is not just another patient.”
When Wendy met him, Dr. Wintergerst told her two things she has never forgotten: “‘First, it’s not your fault that Rebecca has diabetes.’ We didn’t do or not do anything to cause this. While we will never know why it happened to her, it’s not our fault. ‘Second, she will see a cure in her lifetime.’ Those two statements and his confidence gave me the perseverance to start this new chapter.”