Six years after the diagnosis, it is still raw for Kauai Bock. Her son, Garrett, was a high school freshman when they learned he had Type 1 diabetes.
“You just never want anything like that to happen to your child,” Bock said, recalling the original disbelief.
Although Garrett is now in his third year of college and can essentially take care of himself, it is still hard, mainly because both he and his mother know what life was like before diabetes.
No insulin shots.
No watching what you eat.
No stopping everything to check your blood sugar.
“If I had to describe my emotions throughout the first few years of my son’s diagnosis, it would be as if I had a broken heart,” Bock said.
But through the support of family and school personnel, both mother and son have grown stronger, and Garrett’s diabetes is under control.
She thanks people such as Lodi Unified school nurse Donna Aarons, who is one of those responsible for keeping diabetic students healthy.
The rate of students with Type 1 diabetes has remained stable, according to county education officials, but some 90 to 100 students within the district’s schools need daily help with their disease.
Aarons travels among four campuses daily administering insulin to students with diabetes who are too young to handle the medication, let alone the needle, on their own. She also helps assess students for other ailments such as seizures and asthma.
“As the kids get older, they get more independent, but at the beginning of the year I make sure they have everything they need, such as emergency glucose, a glucose monitor and snacks on campus,” Aarons said.
She also assembles a binder for each student which includes their doctor’s orders and an emergency plan, and teaches site secretaries what signs and symptoms to look for in students so that they will know when to call Aarons or 911.
When school starts, she arranges an age-appropriate educational session for the student’s classmates. Some want to know if they can catch the disease, while others might simply be interested in all the tools such as a glucose monitor or why their peer gets to eat snacks throughout the day.
“I also want to make sure the diabetic student isn’t shunned or bullied,” Aarons said.
While she is available at all times during the school day to assess diabetic students, she makes daily visits to some students, including a pre-kindergarten girl who receives a specific insulin dosage based on what she’s going to eat for lunch and how many carbohydrates it contains.
“In the end, I care for these kids as I would my own,” Aarons said.
Earlier this year, school nurses voiced concerns about a lack of qualified staff when the California Supreme Court voted to allow trained but unlicensed employees to administer insulin to diabetic students if a nurse is unavailable, claiming it would be a disservice to fragile students.
Although recent statewide budget cuts to education have decreased the number of school nurses in some local districts, Sheri Coburn, who oversees health programs for the San Joaquin County Office of Education and school nurses in districts throughout the county, said most still have enough nurses needed to care for diabetic students.
To maintain the level of care, some districts have employed licensed vocational nurses — who are overseen by registered nurses — to administer insulin and monitor diabetic students. Lodi Unified, for example, increased the number of full-time LVNs from three to five four years ago, allowing only nurses to give the proper injectable doses of insulin. They also know signs and symptoms related to caring for children with diabetes.
However, Aarons said Lodi Unified does not assign its LVNs to do regular diabetes assessments. Instead, she and her fellow 13 registered nurses cover for one another.
For Garrett Bock, there was no warning, aside from the less-than-3-percent chance that his diabetic father might pass the disease on to his son. But Garrett’s father had contracted it when he was 24, when the couple’s firstborn was just a baby. Their son’s diagnosis came following a random blood sugar test he performed using his dad’s monitor after he cut open a toe.
“I made it my job to be there for my son’s every need at the expense of everything else during his high school years,” Kuaui Bock said. “I knew the first years of his diagnosis would set the tone for how he cared for himself for the rest of his life.”
She was angry, too, mostly toward people’s ignorance of Type 1 diabetes. School employees, although sympathetic, she said, had near zero knowledge of the disease when Garrett was first diagnosed. She realized she needed to find key people in her son’s life to become knowledgeable.
Those people were her son’s athletic coaches; besides providing him with glucose when needed, they treated him the same way they treated every other kid on the field.
“At first, I was angry,” his mother recalled. “How could they make him run like that, knowing he was Type 1, or how could they expect him to work the field in that heat? ... It didn’t hit me until my son’s third year that these coaches had given me the first sliver of hope since that first day of his diagnosis. They showed me and him that he could still do the things he wanted to do. It was harder, but he could still do it.”
Coburn, who is also a registered nurse, said increased parental awareness and in-school physical activity at local schools is reducing childhood obesity — often a precursor to Type 2 diabetes.
For Garrett Bock and others with Type 1 diabetes, it was just genetics.
Today, his mother wants parents to know that Type 1 diabetes can be a deadly disease, that their child will forever be dependent on medication to live and they will forever walk a tightrope between food, medication and exercise.
“If they are like me it will be a painful process to fully comprehend,” Kuaui Bock said. “Then they have to be laser-focused on helping their child to learn how to care for themselves, and they have to be strong, stronger than they ever thought they could be.”