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New York City
June 2002

Mother & Sons Write On Diabetes
By Merri Rosenberg

For families struggling with a child's chronic illness, managing the physical practicalities and emotional turbulence can be a challenge. Initially overwhelmed by the sheer shock of the diagnosis, it is all too easy for youngsters and their parents to dwell on the dangers and difficulties of their condition.

In these two volumes - one written by two brothers, now young men who were each diagnosed with childhood diabetes while still in elementary school, and one written by their mother– the emphasis is placed on the positive. While neither downplays the serious medical issues that diabetes poses, rather than focusing on the limitations that diabetes could potentially present to children and teenagers, these slim volumes offer practical information to help families manage the disease, instead of being managed by it.

As Mrs. Loy writes, "We like to focus on what can go right with diabetes." Both books are engaging, with a breezy tone that strongly communicates to the reader that the authors understand fully the realities of living with diabetes without terrifying a newly-diagnosed youngster or his parents. Perhaps it helped Spike and Bo that, by being diagnosed at the ages of seven and six respectively, living with diabetes was simply the normal backdrop of their lives. ItĚs as if someone with blond hair and freckles accepts without question the need for a sun hat and sun block to venture outside, or someone who is quite tall knows that he has to duck for doorsills. Neither of these books dwells on self-pity, nor on any kind of existential angst about being stricken with the illness.

The boys' book covers everything from participating in sports, attending teenage parties, traveling, hiking and camping, to how to make the proctors during SATs and Advanced Placement exams understand why a diabetic student needs frequent snack breaks. Unlike earlier generations, perhaps, where a diabetic would have kept his condition to himself, the Loys are strong advocates of telling everyone they know about their disease. The reason? A fairly important one, as the more friends and classmates who know about what happens to a diabetic whose sugar levels are falling or rising, the better the chances that someone can offer life-saving help.

Many of the suggestions have to do with food: the kinds of meals and snacks diabetic children and teenagers need to have during the course of a normal day, and how to make modifications if they're participating in vigorous exercise or other events. Just as important, and practical, is their check list for what children should carry in their cooler–foods, snacks, and drinks like Gatorade– and medication bag, and the kinds of equipment needed in what they call the 'diabetic drawer' in their household.

Other recommendations are just as useful, like wearing a medical identification tag and a diabetes identification tag, so that a local pharmacist could help a diabetic in crisis without the need for a prescription. Or, when looking at potential college campuses, discussing with the school's office of disabled students' services how that particular school makes accommodations for diabetic students in terms of having 24-hour food available or allowing for food during an examination.

Similarly, Virginia Loy's guide, geared for the parents of diabetic children and teenagers provides ample lists for stocking the family kitchen, including what to take on road trips (even for something as small as an away-soccer match). Mrs. Loy also offers practical strategies for explaining a child's medical condition to the people who need to know about it–the school nurse, the bus driver and monitor, classroom teacher, and even substitute teachers.

To her credit, Mrs. Loy does not shy away from confronting the issues that all protective parents have to deal with when their once-biddable and obedient young children are transformed into independent-minded pre-teens and teenagers. She doesn't pretend that teenagers don't eat fast food, or possibly drink at parties; what she does is give guidelines that parents can use with both their own children, and their offspring's friends, to be sure that in the balancing act between independence and protection, a diabetic won't come to harm.

And Mrs. Loy, in a section clearly labeled for parents only, confronts head-on the fears that parents of diabetics live with: that their beloved children may go blind from the disease, that dating may be difficult or that future grandchildren may be afflicted with the disease.

These books would be a valuable addition, if not to a classroom teacher's library, then at least to a school library as a resource for children, teachers and other staff alike.#


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