Kids take first priority in Sherry Trunnel’s life. As the only diabetes educator at Blank Specialties Clinic of Children’s Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, Sherry skips vacations when the hospital admits a new child with diabetes.
“It’s really out of necessity,” she says. “If you get the kids off to a good start, they do well long-term. The initial education is very important.”
Sherry’s philosophy is simple. “As an educator, I want to teach the family as well as the child, so the kids become self-sufficient. We like them to know everything we know.”
Pediatric diabetes education is different from adult care, Sherry says. “With very young children, you’re really informing the parents. When the kids get to about seven or eight they begin to understand and give feedback. At that age they really want to please you. They even have fun with all the gadgets-they like to show their meters and syringes off to their friends.”
Sherry says that as children approach adolescence, diabetes self-care becomes increasingly difficult. “The toughest kids to work with are from about the ages of 12 to 15. There’s so much going on for them already at that age. They’re trying so hard to fit in with the other kids. So, finding out they have this chronic disease that involves all this responsibility really affects their self-esteem.”
“It’s hard for them to skip all the treats their friends enjoy. They want to have Cokes and chocolate with the other kids,” Sherry says.
As both an inpatient and outpatient diabetes instructor at Children’s Hospital, Sherry’s tailors her ideas about therapy to suit children’s special needs. “As a child, your insulin rarely stays constant, so I believe in a lot of blood glucose monitoring. Also, because of children’s body changes, their calorie requirements change, so their calorie intake must be monitored too.”
Specific therapy under Sherry’s tutelage involves blood sugar monitoring four times daily, and two to three insulin injections per day. She offers each child a meal plan suited to the individual, and she heartily encourages exercise.
“Many of my children participate in competitive sports,” Sherry says. “We monitor these kids carefully, because sometimes they need extra glucose. I tell them, ‘Don’t let diabetes limit you physically.'”
Sherry works especially hard to streamline the transition children face when they go back to school after the diagnosis. For ten years she has been visiting her students’ classes and explaining the ins and outs of diabetes. “It’s really fun for me,” she says. “I tell the peers the ‘whys’ of the affected child’s special needs.” She explains the child’s hospital visits, the reasons the child needs a special snack, and why he or she drinks orange juice in class, and she answers other frequently asked questions.
“This process gives my kids more self-confidence; they feel special, that this presentation is just for them.” What started out as a small project has grown immensely. “I ended up at something like 54 schools last year,” Sherry says proudly.
Once a year Sherry plans special activities for specific age groups. These “Education Fun Days” involve trips to the zoo, amusement parks, and even camp-outs. “These outings really create opportunities for the kids to bond. It also allows them to relate with the medical staff in a non-medical way.”
As an active member of her local Juvenile Diabetes Foundation chapter, Sherry provides a wealth of information for her patients, for their families, and even for her own co-workers.
“My goal is to have my kids and their families leaving this hospital with all the information I have.”