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Teen tackles diabetes, spreads awareness

Posted: November 26, 2014 - 12:03am
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Caroline Dorn, an eighth grader at Riverside Middle School, initiated Project Blue November to raise awareness of juvenile diabetes through several fundraising events. Caroline has Type 1 diabetes.  Photo by Jim Blaylock
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Caroline Dorn, an eighth grader at Riverside Middle School, initiated Project Blue November to raise awareness of juvenile diabetes through several fundraising events. Caroline has Type 1 diabetes.

Caroline Dorn wants to turn the world blue.

The 13-year-old wants blue – and talk about diabetes – to be as prevalent in November, National Diabetes Month, as pink is during October.

Caroline’s world turned upside down on Sept. 13, 2013, when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

“It was actually a Friday the 13th,” she said.

More than a year later, hearing so much information in the media about breast cancer in October got Caroline upset because she didn’t expect to hear much information about Diabetes Month.

So she tried to turn her school blue.

“I looked at her and I said, ‘Then do something about it,’” her mother, Alice said. “She did. This was her solution to that.

‘‘You have to start small. You can’t educate the world in a year.”

Caroline organized Project Blue November, a month-long fundraising project at Riverside Middle School, where she’s an eight-grader.

“I wanted to do something at school because I wanted to raise awareness because other children like me could have symptoms and not a lot of people know about Type 1,” Caroline said.

A diabetes fact was read along with the morning announcements. Caroline passed out blue ribbons and blue sneakers to be put up around the school, and more than 20 posters with diabetes facts. Every Friday was Blue Friday, allowing students to wear hats for $1 and wear blue. For a $5 donation, teachers got to wear blue jeans. Everyone who wore blue got a raffle ticket and could win a prize.

Caroline and her efforts raised $450 for the JDRF, a diabetes research and awareness foundation that is the largest private funder of diabetes research.

After a six-week bout with pneumonia beginning in May 2013, Caroline felt crummy, lost weight and simply didn’t seem right to her mother. Her diagnosis, only a few months after the onset of her diabetes, has upended Caroline’s life.

“It’s been very different,” Caroline said. “Because I have to watch my diet. I never knew really what carbs were except something on a nutrition box before. But now carbs are like my life. I look at all nutrition labels. I calculate carbs.”

Type 1 diabetics are insulin-dependent because the pancreas makes little or no insulin, the chemical that controls blood sugar. Type 2 diabetes can usually be managed with diet, exercise and lifestyle changes.

Caroline started out pricking her finger up to 20 times a day to check her blood sugar. Now, she uses a CGM – continuous glucose monitor – to wirelessly transmit from a hair-thin wire in her skin to a small electronic device similar to a cell phone or iPod. That limits finger pricks to only a few times a day and insulin shots five or six times. Plus it provides a constant measure of her blood sugar.

“I read a quote the other day, ‘Diabetics have to be mathematicians, dieticians and physicians, all rolled into one,’” Caroline said. “We have to always be calculating carbs, looking at blood sugars, giving insulin, all the time.”

But Caroline said she likes to learn about her disease and has taken charge of managing it. From the first day, she’s given her own shots with an insulin pen and takes pride in doing it with her parents’ help.

“She wants that control,” Caroline’s mother said, adding there are other ways to manage diabetes daily, including an insulin pump. “Caroline feels, at this point, that she has more control with shots and a better grasp of what’s going on with that. Her dad and I feel like as much as we can let her have control and let her have that decision, the better she will feel and the more comfortable she will feel with her disease.”

Caroline has taken on her diabetes and all the associated checks, shots, finger pricks and diet calculating, as her new normal. She knows that proper management prevents a lot of the stupors, long-term effects and potentially fatal side effects from low blood sugar and the hyperactivity, thirst and other symptoms of high blood sugar.

“She takes this very seriously,” Caroline’s mother said. “She’s not messing around.

“She has taken this and owned it. She has just made it her own. She refuses to be the victim. She has absolutely decided that this is something she lives with. She will master it. It will not master her.”

Caroline knows that better management leads to her being healthier long-term. But she also won’t let diabetes stop her from doing anything. Though she can opt out of physical education class she doesn’t, even though it poses sugar-balancing challenges. The disease is already hard to manage in the teenage years with so many things going on in the body and so many things that affect blood sugar, including hydration, too much sleep, lack of sleep, hormones, exercise, travel, as well as diet and insulin.

Caroline said she’s always been interested in working with children as a career. But her disease has her considering a medical degree.

“I’ve considered pediatric endocrinologist several times,” she said. “I think that me being diabetic, I feel I could relate to kids getting diagnosed, kids my age getting diagnosed. I think being able to relate to kids in situations is important.”

Dorn said managing Caroline’s diabetes is a family effort and even her three younger siblings help watch her blood sugar and help keep her in line.

But she said she’s proud of how her daughter has stepped up from a carefree pre-teen to a young teen who is responsible, who has always been “wise beyond her years.”

Faith is a big part of the Dorn family and Caroline’s mother said she’s seen the Lord preparing Caroline and her family for this with obstacles and people placed in their lives.

“But her strength in this is just amazing,” Dorn said. “She had more grace in her little finger than I will possess in my entire life.”

After seeing how her teenager had tackled and owned her diabetes, Dorn said she fully expects Caroline to be able to do anything she wants in life.

“We’re going to see something amazing one day,” Dorn said. “This is the tip of the iceberg.”

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