By: Mary Milewski
Five years ago, on Mother’s Day, Eileen Clarke got a surprise that changed her family’s life. Her twin daughters, Kelsey and Kayla, just months old, were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Kelsey started injections that day, and Kayla soon followed. From infancy, Kelsey and Kaylas’ lives were given to the realities of needles, lancets, strict meal schedules and healthy foods.
“At first you feel like your world is going to end,” Eileen says of her babies’ diagnosis. “But then you think about it and you realize that you have to do what you have to do. I mean, come on, these are your kids’ lives.”
A Mother’s Day Gift
But for Mother’s Day 2000, the Clarkes, of Middlebury, Connecticut, have reason to celebrate. Kelsey and Kayla have said goodbye to their routine of daily injections. The twins started using insulin pumps in November and have already seen big differences in lifestyle flexibility and blood sugar control.
“Now it’s a piece of cake in comparison to before the pump,” says Eileen. “It’s a blessing to say the least.”
Bill and Eileen Clarke were waiting for the girls to be old enough to pump. But when they learned that children younger than 5 are pumping, they wasted no more time.
Glad to Get Rid of Shots
Kelsey and Kayla are active in gymnastics, ballet and tap dancing. Their skinny bodies had few places left to inject.
“I’m just glad we’ve gotten rid of the shots,” Eileen says. “They were so little they were getting lumpy legs and lumpy arms from all of the shots.”
The lumps are gone, and the twins are glad the daily injections are over.
“Sometimes it hurts,” Kelsey says. “We were on three shots per day. Now we just change the infusion set every two days.”
Kelsey likes wearing her pump in the front or back. Kayla prefers her sides. Their mom sewed pockets inside their spring dresses to hold the pump.
Eileen says that the pump makes it much easier to fit favorite foods into Kelsey’s diet.
“Kayla is the opposite,” says Eileen. “She eats no candy, no fruits and no vegetables. She only eats mashed potatoes and yogurt-and Lucky Charms on rare occasion.”
“They still count carbs,” Eileen says, “but there is a lot more freedom now, especially with snacks. Now the twins can eat what they want, when they want, just like the other kids at school.
Just Kids Having Fun
The pump took grown-up structure from their lives, replacing it with a freedom of childhood they have never known. The girls now see that life doesn’t have to be restricted by schedules of insulin shots, meals and blood sugar tests. They always had to eat specific foods at scheduled times, even if they weren’t hungry. Now they can follow whimsical eating habits common to childhood. And they don’t have to wake up at a set time each morning just to take shots.
“Christmas was especially nice this year,” says Eileen. “We got to get up and open presents. Last year we had to feed them first.”
Cake and ice cream at birthday parties are also no longer strictly regulated.
When Bill asks his daughters what they want for lunch, Kayla answers, “Lucky Charms!” and Kelsey, “Grilled cheese!”
Instead of lining up before lunch for mom to administer insulin shots, Kelsey and Kayla charge into the living room so she can simply push buttons on their pager-sized pumps, which then send a bolus of fast-acting Humalog insulin through a soft plastic cannula in each child’s abdomen.
As Eileen counts carbohydrates to determine how much insulin each should get, the girls proudly show off their gear worn on Velcro belts. Pre-meal insulin boluses complement the basal rate, the 20 micro-doses the pump delivers every hour.
“You test blood sugars more with the pump, especially in the beginning, but for the most part we’re hearing positive things from other parents whose children have gone on pumps,” says Eileen.
Another Parent Sold on the Pump
Martha DeCarlo of Danbury, Connecticut, has an 11-year-old son named Chase, who also started the pump last year.
“It should be the first treatment when somebody is diagnosed,” says Martha, who was so pleased with Chase’s success she became a pump representative to help other families learn about it. “It’s an opportunity to take a terrible disease and normalize it a little bit.”
Chase’s going on the pump changed his life, says Martha.
“On shots, it’s like being in a car and the diabetes is driving,” she says. “But on the pump, diabetes is still in the car, but you, are driving and the diabetes is in the trunk. It’s just like you are back to normal because you don’t have to follow that old diabetes routine anymore. You can eat what you want, when you want, sleep late or go to bed late.”
Eileen and Bill Clarke say the pump should be a first step in treating diabetes, not a last resort.
“Life is so much easier. It’s not even a comparison. It’s just unbelievable.”