(Parenting.com) -- Last winter our 11-month-old son Jake had the flu, we thought. My husband, Matt, and I had just gotten over it, and Jake was vomiting and acting lethargic.
When he began to grunt with each breath, we took him to the emergency room -- expecting to hear that we were anxious parents. Instead, the nurse took his vitals and rushed to get the doctors.
Doctors thought it was asthma, but asthma medicine didn't help. Jake was dehydrated and had gone into shock, so an IV was put into his leg and he was hooked up to a breathing machine. Everything was happening so fast. Minutes earlier, Jake was confused because I was crying; now he was fighting for his life.
A terrible wait
About an hour later, the doctors told us Jake had type I diabetes. We were stunned. I didn't know any adults with this disease, let alone a baby. Terrified, all I could think to ask was, "Will he be OK?" When they replied that they were doing everything they could, we realized how serious the situation was. He was moved to the intensive care unit -- strapped down, unconscious, connected to tubes.
Over the next few days, there were more X-rays and blood tests, and Jake even stopped breathing once. But gradually the doctors regulated his sugar and blood acid levels with an insulin drip. I was worried that Jake wouldn't be the same little boy anymore; he cried when a doctor or nurse looked at him, and was uncharacteristically clingy. But he bounced back, and within a week, he was smiling and walking again.
Meanwhile, Matt and I got a crash course from the hospital's diabetes instructors in how to care for our son. It was overwhelming, but when Jake left after eight days we were prepared. Not that it's easy.
We test his blood with a finger prick at least nine times a day, and sometimes twice as frequently: Jake can't tell us when he isn't feeling well, and it's a challenge to distinguish a normal 1-year-old's tantrum from a plummet in blood sugar. If I'm unsure, it's just safer to do the test.
The insulin shots -- five a day -- were harder, but now he's on an insulin pump, so he only needs one shot every two days to insert the catheter.
Jake runs around like the silly little boy he was before, and I try not to let my fear and uncertainty overshadow the joy of watching him grow. With the right care, there'll be nothing he can't do in his life.
Is it diabetes?
Early diagnosis of type I diabetes -- an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks insulin-producing cells -- means a child can get insulin and avoid a crisis like Jake's. But babies can't tell you if they have the classic symptoms: blurry vision, fatigue, tingly feet, or itchy skin. Watch out for:
• frequent urination
• very wet, unusually heavy diapers
• bed-wetting in kids who are potty trained
• extreme thirst
• sudden weight loss
• erratic behavior
A simple blood test at the doctor's office can determine if it's diabetes. -- Jennifer Kelly Geddes
The possibility of prevention
Type I diabetes, the most common chronic disease in children after asthma, isn't caused by obesity (unlike type II), and genetics plays only a small role. But pay attention to the timing and choice of first solid foods:
Don't start with any solids until your baby's at least 4 months old. Between 4 and 6 is fine, although some babies aren't ready until 7 or 8 months.
There's a link between type I diabetes and celiac disease, an inability to digest gluten in wheat and other grains. If celiac runs in your family, starting gluten-containing cereals before 6 months may be a risk. Talk to a doctor -- you may want to start with fruits and veggies. -- J.K.G. E-mail to a friend
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