Elite cyclists inspire Tucson kids with diabetes

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

By: STEPHANIE INNES | 11/24/11 11:01 PM

Arizona Daily Star

AP Photo

Twelve-year-old Sonoran Science Academy student Denise Ware first noticed the symptoms a month ago —trouble focusing, drinking a lot of fluid, nausea and vomiting. The diagnosis: Type 1 diabetes.

An avid basketball and volleyball player, Denise is currently sitting out of sports while she regulates her daily insulin injections. She was heartened Thursday when she met two members of an elite amateur cycling team that was in Tucson to compete in the 29th annual El Tour de Tucson, which was Nov. 19.

Eleven members of Team Type 1 cycled as a group in the 111-mile bike ride. All of the team’s members have Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes. The group aims to bring awareness to a disease that typically receives less attention than the more common Type 2 diabetes.

Just 5 percent of people with diabetes have Type 1, says the American Diabetes Association, and it’s typically diagnosed in otherwise healthy young adults and children like Denise.

The cause of Type 1 diabetes is unknown, but it’s believed to originate with a genetically driven problem in the immune system. In Type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the pancreas, and beta cells in the pancreas produce little or no insulin. Since insulin is needed to move blood sugar into cells, untreated
Type 1 diabetes results in a dangerous buildup of glucose in the bloodstream.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when either the body does not produce enough insulin, or the cells ignore the insulin. While Type 2 diabetes may sometimes be reversed in its early stages through diet, exercise and weight control, the same is not true for Type 1, which requires a lifetime of management.

But Team Type 1 cyclists say exercise is key to managing the disease, and can offset future problems like blindness, limb amputation and kidney failure that can fell diabetics.

“Exercise and keeping healthy is essential in putting off some of the secondary problems you can get with diabetes,” said Team Type 1 member Andy Mead, 33, a grad student from Philadelphia. “It doesn’t have to be something that is debilitating, or that shortens your life.”

Mead and team member Mark Suprenant, a 46-year-old cyclist from New Hampshire, met with Type 1 diabetic kids, including Denise, at the Diamond Children’s Medical Center on Nov. 17. Diamond Children’s is part of the University of Arizona Medical Center, which sponsored El Tour.

“You have to manage diabetes. It’s a 24-hour-per-day job,” said Suprenant, who will wear an insulin pump and an insulin monitor with a screen on his handlebars during the race. “It’s all about the right balance of food, exercise and insulin.”

Mead was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 15, after he began losing weight. He was also thirsty all the time and urinated much more than normal.

“I’ll make sure to eat throughout the ride,” Mead said before the Nov. 19 ride. “Probably something like a Clif bar once an hour. I’ll probably also take a little less of my long-lasting insulin shot. I find when I exercise, I don’t need near as much insulin.”

Mead and Suprenant talked with 7-year-old Nevaeh Lara, a second-grader at Borton Primary Magnet School who wears a pink insulin pump and a pink medical alert bracelet listing her as a diabetic. Nevaeh is monitored by her mother and a school nurse throughout the day and says she feels much better than she did before her diagnosis, when she “got really sick.”

Researchers at the UA’s Steele Memorial Children’s Center are trying to find out the origin of Type 1 diabetes, said UA pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Kurt J. Griffin. Griffin said medical experts have connected an increase in Type 2 diabetes to the obesity epidemic, but aren’t certain why Type 1 diabetes is also on the rise. Researchers have also not pinpointed what triggers someone to develop Type 1.

“It’s worldwide,” Griffin said. “People are born with a genetic predisposition. So there are certain people who are born at a higher risk. It’s unclear what then takes somebody and puts them into actually getting it.”

Griffin said Type 1 diabetes can be successfully managed, but that it requires intensive monitoring, including checking blood sugar levels up to eight times per day. The insulin needs to be replaced — there’s no way around it.

“Every time you eat, you need to figure out what you are going to eat and how much insulin you need to balance it,” Griffin said. “It’s doable, but it takes a lot of attention. One of the nice things about this group of cyclists is that it shows that it doesn’t need to slow you down from what you want to do.”

Though Denise is still figuring out the correct balance


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