Mentors aid teens with diabetes
By MEGHAN McCOY
The Florida Suncoast Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation recently began a teen mentoring program to help teenagers who have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes, an auto-immune disease, occurs when an individual’s pancreas stops producing the insulin that is needed to control blood sugar levels. This type usually occurs in childhood, adolescence or young adulthood. Those diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes must take multiple injections of insulin a day to survive.
Outreach Coordinator Cynthia Kemp for the Florida Suncoast Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation said Type 1 Diabetes is rising 3-5 percent every year in the United States. One in every 300 Americans have Type 1 Diabetes. She explained that Type 1 Diabetes is a more severe disease than Type 2 because an individual who is diagnosed with it cannot live more than two weeks without insulin.
“It is an art and not a science to manage this disease,” she explained about the 24- hour care that the chronic disease requires. “It is a heck of a disease to manage.”
Teens, especially, have a hard time managing Type 1 Diabetes because their hormones are constantly being released, which delivers sugars into their blood stream, she said.
“Your blood sugars go on a wild ride through the teen years,” Kemp said. “You combine that with what any teen goes through with striving for independence and rebellion…you can have a recipe for disaster.”
Kemp said since 2004 they have lost seven children to diabetes.
“It’s so much more than staying away from sugar for Type 1 Diabetics,” she said, because individuals can die from high or low blood sugar if they do not manage insulin.
Diabetes affects families in different ways, which also affects the way they deal with a new diagnosis. Kemp explained that the three groups of people include those who immediately want to take control and get involved, those who do not want to be contacted because they are grieving for the life that used to be, and those who only want to be contacted on their terms.
Kemp said the majority of people want to be contacted on their terms because they step into the community a little slower.
The Florida Suncoast Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation was formed in 1994 and currently covers 10 counties from Manatee to Collier and east to Lake Okeechobee.
When the idea of adding a teen outreach program to the Florida Suncoast Chapter became an initiative two years ago, Kemp said they wanted to add two components –reaching out to the community and families. She said they wanted to provide a resource and support system within the community.
Organizers modeled their outreach program after San Antonio because they have a “fabulous program,” Kemp said.
Their vision is to not only have “teens helping other teens, but teens helping themselves.”
The new teen mentor program that was implemented last year takes teenagers who are 13 years and older through a training program so they can eventually work with patients at the Children’s Hospital.
The teen mentor program is an important addition to the Florida Suncoast Chapter, Kemp said, because a teen who has become a good role model in managing his or blood sugars is paired up with a newly diagnosed teen or someone that is struggling with diabetes burnout.
“It makes it an essential program,” she said. “They learn that part of their job is to let the teen know that you are a person that happens to have diabetes.”
Since the program began they have trained three teen mentors.
Amelia Rosen, 17 was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in January 2005. She explained that her biggest struggle is trying to keep her blood sugar at a consistent and safe level, which can be difficult because of stress and hormones.
“It is difficult to cope with the ordinary angst of being a teen and maintain decent blood sugar levels simultaneously,” she said.
Rosen said she wanted to become a mentor for other diabetic teenagers to help them have drive and optimism about the disease. But before she was able to help other teenagers she attended an education session to learn about the importance of the program, her role within the program, along with the proper way to handle every situation she may be faced with.
“We were taught to interact with the children as we would our peers and to, above all, have fun with them because our goal is to help ease their worries and overcome their obstacles,” Rosen said.
The program allows her to meet with newly diagnosed Juvenile Diabetics who are all under the age of 18. She said the program also provides her with the opportunity to “inform them of the numerous benefits that can be discovered beyond the burden of the disease.”
“This opportunity allows me to use what I have learned from my own experience with the disease to help others and to discover a wealth of knowledge that I, otherwise, would have overlooked,” Rosen said.
Gina Dengler, development coordinator of the Florida Suncoast Chapter, said that the mentors also help the family by answering questions of what they can expect.
“It is an overwhelming experience,” she said, due to the three or four days the family has to digest the new information.
She said the teen mentor program is a fabulous idea because by having an older kid come and talk to you, you have that sense that things will be OK, along with not making the situation so scary.
Rosen believes that by becoming a mentor she is helping other teenagers by filling a void that was not acknowledged before.
“When I was diagnosed, I was struggling with becoming accustomed to my new lifestyle and was in need of encouragement from others who knew what I was dealing with, not motivation from a physician but from another diabetic child,” she said. “I believe that the teen mentoring program helps to fill this void and to lessen the fear or aggravation that diabetic adolescents often feel when struggling with the disease.”
A fund raising event, the Fort Myers Walk to Cure Diabetes, will be held at the Bell Tower Shops on April 16.
Organizers hope the 5K walk will raise at least $120,00 this year.
For more information contact Gina Dengler, Florida Suncoast Chapter, (239) 369-8624.
For more information about programs, Type 1 Diabetes or fund raising events visit www.jdrf.org/index.cfm?page_id=100555