Their son Niket, then 7, had been losing weight drastically, despite a voracious appetite. “He’d pretty much eat anything,” says Mehul, adding that other factors like frequent urination, exhaustion and a complaint of frequent uneasiness had convinced them that their son needed medical assistance. Niket has now been living with Type 1 diabetes for three years, and not every day is easy. “There are times he looks languid, and we know there’s a drop in his sugar levels. If it goes below 50, we immediately give him sugar,” says the father. His son’s condition prompted Mehul to join hands with a juvenile diabetes foundation, where affected children and their parents come together to share experiences and improve one another’s lives. “We have to be our own doctor,” he says.
Khyati Arora, whose eight-year-old daughter has Type 1 diabetes, agrees with Mehul. “At times, her sugar levels need constant monitoring. She has to be sheltered from anything that could cause infections and we have to be vigilant about her food. Everyone knows that such children require regular insulin shots, but this often has to be altered with any change in the carbohydrate intake,” she says, adding that juvenile diabetes is a condition that affects the entire family. “Ironically, in that way, it’s genetic,” she says.
Type 2 diabetes, which is less frequent in children and is primarily associated with obesity, can be prevented and even reversed by mending eating habits. Type 1, on the other hand, is an autoimmune condition wherein the body attacks the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas, hampering its production. “It can affect anyone and its development may not necessarily be attributed to generic factors. But, environmental stimuli like pollution, smoking and viral infections can aggravate it,” says Dr Sudesh Sawadkar, who holds a MD in medicine and a diploma in Diabetes. Dr Hiren Doshi, Director of Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Nanavati hospital, agrees, adding that late pregnancies too can cause mutation in genes, leading to the development of Type 1 in children. “Early detection goes a long way in bettering the lifestyle. Symptoms like excessive thirst, urination, weight loss or blurred vision mustn’t be ignored,” he warns. Monitoring eating habits and consuming frequent meals are some of the early steps one can take while dealing with diabetes. “The point is to create as normal a lifestyle so that there is no sense of isolation,” he says, adding that teenagers understand the situation better, but they too can feel singled out.
Sawadekar advocates counselling to keep the child abreast with the condition. “The child must realise that his doctors and family are working together for his own benefit,” he says, adding that parents should increase the child’s interaction with other kids battling the disease.