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When it comes to six year-old boys, one thing is pretty predictable-they are fountains of non-stop activity. Michael Arnoni is typical in that regard. He loves soccer, T-ball and has just begun playing football. But Michael has type 1 (also known as juvenile) diabetes, which means that many things other youngsters and their parents typically take for granted have the potential to be critical events in his young life.
Michael was diagnosed with diabetes in the fall of 1998. Luckily, his parents noticed early symptoms and had Michael tested before he had anything serious happened. Still, Mary Arnoni, Michael’s mom, says it was a “little crazy” in the beginning. “A nurse counsels you and gives you this chart [containing information about types of insulin, blood sugar levels, etc.], and it’s immediately overwhelming. You get home your head is spinning, and then you have to go to the grocery store and read label after label,” she says. “But after a couple few months, it just becomes your way of life.”
Eventually you fall into a pattern of what your child can and cannot eat, reports Bob Arnoni, Michael’s dad. “The staff [at Children’s] is trying to educate you, and you’re trying to absorb it. It’s not the kind of experience that you really get over. It’s always a constant concern, a constant worry.”
One of the hardest aspects of Michael’s illness is managing his diet, according to Mary. “He can’t eat what he wants to when he wants to anymore. Then on the other hand, sometimes you need to make sure he eats whether he is hungry or not." Mary adds, “When I go to the mall and I see kids who say, ‘Mom, I want this. Mom, I want that,’ it makes me sad for him that he doesn’t have that freedom anymore. Everything is about timing for a diabetic.”
Indeed, structure and timing are important components of Michael’s days-eating meals and snacks at prescribed times, testing his blood sugar levels and correcting highs and lows. Now as Michael attends the first grade, he and his parents are working hard to ensure that Michael can maintain his necessary schedule while adjusting to new challenges at school. “Michael gets embarrassed sometimes when we check his blood sugar in front of his friends, but at the same time he understands that we have to,” Bob says. “It’s as much a learning curve for us as it is for him. This is a big year. Once we get through this, then we will feel more comfortable with him being at school all day.”
Michael says he doesn’t like having diabetes, but it isn’t slowing him down. In fact, Michael has something going for him-he is very self-aware and he seems to know when his blood sugar level is off. “When he’s low, he says his legs feel funny,” Mary explains, “and, sure enough, he’s low [has a low blood sugar level]. That’s a hard lesson to get children to learn sometimes, but, fortunately, it is something he has picked up easily.”
Mary says Michael’s two older sisters are learning more about the disease, too, and are sensitive to mood swings that indicate a change in Michael’s blood sugar level.
Right now life has really changed for Michael. He has a new school, new activities and new friends. And, he may soon have a new insulin schedule to keep up with his busy life.
“But the great news is that medical research and technology are bringing new treatments options to the table,” says Bob. “In the future, I think that it’ll be a little easier. Who knows, maybe before Michael hits puberty. Maybe there will be a way with cell transplants and things of that nature so that his body will begin making its own insulin again and he can live normally. Those are big maybes, but I think the key is education-letting him know that he can lead a pretty normal life, even with shots.”
“There’s a lot of live and learn when your child is diagnosed with diabetes. But open communication with everyone involved is key. And no matter how young, children have an amazing way of helping the adults cope."
Children's Hospital's main campus is located in the Lawrenceville neighborhood. Our main hospital address is:
UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
One Children’s Hospital Way
4401 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
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