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Gian-Carlo was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) during the summer of 2015.  He had been homeschooled through 5th grade, and just completed sixth grade at a private school.  Throughout the spring, he began losing weight and was increasingly thirsty.  During a family vacation in June, his thirst and urination became extremely frequent.  His mother did a little research and had a feeling it might be diabetes.  After vacation, she took him to the pediatrician, who sent him to the Emergency Room with blood sugars above 600. 

Gian-Carlo and his mother, Ruth, spent three days at UMass learning how to live with T1D.  His father stayed home with his younger sister. “The UMass staff was great,” Ruth said.  “They patiently taught us a disease we knew nothing about.”  But then, it was time to leave the hospital, and do it on their own.  “It was a stressful time,” she added.  “We were trying to figure it out by ourselves using the information they sent us home with.”

Even prior to diabetes, the family understood the importance of exercise and diet.  Gian-Carlo and his mother both eat a vegan diet, which means no animal products, including dairy and eggs.  Instead their meals consist of vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains. “We eat a balanced diet,” said Ruth.

Gian-Carlo added, “the toughest part is when friends want to go out to eat.”  The family has their favorite Thai and Indian restaurants where they can find meals that fit their vegan lifestyle.  

Gian-Carlo was always an active boy.  He plays soccer and enjoys snowboarding and skateboarding.  “I bring a bag with juice boxes and nuts,” he said.  “I check my sugar before a game, and if I feel different during the game, I have a snack and sit out for a bit.”  His coach is very understanding and supportive.

Over time and with plenty of experimentation, Ruth and Gian-Carlo have worked with the UMass diabetes care team to get his numbers under control.  Ruth admits they did take a trip to Boston to inquire about diabetes care there.  “It didn’t feel right.  The care I receive in Worcester is great, and it’s 10 minutes from our home.”  Both Gian-Carlo and Ruth appreciate the personalized attention they receive from Dr. Leslie Soyka and other care team members.  “They took the time to get to know us and address his needs.”

She prefers to treat her son’s diabetes with shots.  Ruth says manually injecting insulin has allowed them to learn how he reacts to various foods and different situations.  “It makes me feel like I have more control. I’m not yet emotionally ready to learn a different way [insulin pump] to treat him.  It’s overwhelming to think about learning a new process all over again.”  He does use the Dexcom and looks forward to upgrading to the new G6 device.

Gian-Carlo was homeschooled again in 7th grade, and went back to private school for 8th.  The school does not have a full-time nurse, however Ruth works 10 minutes away, and visits him every day at lunch.  She also receives his CGM numbers on her smartphone.

Ruth arranged for a nurse that they know from church, to provide diabetes education for the teachers and students at his school.  They now know what T1D is and warning signs to look for.

As for advice to other parents, she says, “It’s overwhelming at first, but we’re blessed to live in a time where diabetes doesn’t mean death.  Science and technology makes diabetes manageable in comparison to other health issues.” 

Gian-Carlo added, “A few small diet and lifestyle changes now will help me avoid problems in the future.”  At 15 years old, he understands the benefits of making healthy food choices and staying active.  He knows that if he keeps his blood sugar in a normal range, he will feel better, have more energy, and lessen the chances of health complications later in life.     

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