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A conversation with a friend made all the difference to Wendy DeGraaf’s children.

DeGraaf and her husband, Bill, and children Maeve, 6, and Aidan, 9, are dealing with Type 1 diabetes in both children, but DeGraaf said they feel lucky to have caught their conditions early. Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes, is caused by an autoimmune reaction that destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin.

“A colleague of mine had a Type 1 diabetic son,” DeGraaf said. “I asked him the signs. You file that in the back of your mind.”

In early 2017, Maeve was out of sorts. DeGraaf said she was tired, lethargic and drinking a lot.

“She went off her food and she loves food,” DeGraaf said. “I kept saying to my husband, ‘Maybe she’s coming down with something.’ She was a little grumpy, but hey, that’s a kid. For some reason, I thought back to my colleague and I Googled the symptoms of Type 1.”

DeGraaf learned that it was common for children to be diagnosed with a urinary tract infection when they were actually displaying symptoms of diabetes. She insisted that Maeve’s pediatrician check.

“All it takes is a quick finger stick,” she said. “It’s not part of a regular checkup and it’s not on their radar.”

In this case, DeGraaf said the doctor told her that her instincts were right.

“We caught it in the early stages,” DeGraaf said.

Five months later, in July 2017, DeGraaf’s mom instincts proved correct once again.

“My son was very, very thirsty, but it was summer,” she said.

Aidan fell asleep in the car and seemed especially tired. DeGraaf wondered if he also had Type 1. She tried checking his blood sugar at home but it was too high for Maeve’s blood glucose meter to read.

“We got lucky,” DeGraaf said.

After the diagnosis of both children, DeGraaf wants to spread the word to other parents, though she hopes they never need to know about Type 1 diabetes.

“Go with the gut instinct,” she said. “If you feel something isn’t right, ask the doctor for a finger stick. Maybe you’re right, maybe you’re wrong, but you’ll know Undiagnosed Type 1 can be fatal. Ask the doctor if this is a possibility.”

The DeGraaf family has become very involved with JDRF, the leading global organization funding Type 1 diabetes research. The organization’s Upstate fundraising gala is March 16.

“They are my second family now,” DeGraaf said. “In the Upstate, the Type 1 community led by JDRF is a village.”

Connecting with other families means DeGraaf’s children have friends who know what they are going through. For parents, it means support is close at hand.

“It’s invaluable,” DeGraaf said. “It really is invaluable.”

At the beginning of each school year, DeGraaf visits her children’s classrooms and spends time answering questions about diabetes. It’s just another way she promotes awareness of the condition.

“It’s raising a new generation without the preconceived notions,” she said.

The 2019 JDRF Black Tie on the Beach Gala is March 16 at Greenville Convention Center. The event raises funds for critical research to treat, prevent and cure Type 1 diabetes. For details or tickets, call 864-770-0276 or visit http://jdrfupstategala.com.

Type 1 diabetes usually starts in children, teens or young adults but can happen at any age. Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes may include:

Urinating a lot, often at night

Extreme thirst

Losing weight without trying

Extreme hunger

Blurry vision

Numb or tingling hands or feet

Feeling very tired

Having very dry skin

Having sores that heal slowly

Having more infections than usual

Nausea, vomiting or stomach pains t

(Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/symptoms.html)

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