Ben Murray, 13, Pictou, N.S.
Type 1 Diabetes
Think it’s hard to get a teenager to clean his room or take out the garbage? Try getting him to change his insulin pump. “We are always trying to drum into Ben’s head that it’s his body, and he has to take care of it himself,” says Crystal Murray, whose 13-year-old son has Type 1 diabetes. “In some ways, he managed his disease better at eight than he does at 13. Diabetes and teenagers are not a good combination.”
Crystal and Sean Murray have been managing Ben’s diabetes since he was diagnosed at age three. “Our doctor gave us the diagnosis. Ben was admitted into the hospital, he was on insulin within the hour and within two days we were giving him injections ourselves,” says Crystal. It was a jarring ordeal for the family, whose other son Mac was just one at the time. “Immediately it brought a regimen into our lives,” says Sean. “Ben had to have meals and snacks at specific times, and every night we had to check his glucose level at midnight, two, four and six a.m. A lot of our time was spent just trying to keep his sugar in check.”
Since then there have been major advances in glucose monitoring. Today Ben wears an insulin pump: an electronic device the size of a pager, with a 20-inch rubber tube and a cannula that is lodged in his upper buttock. A small vial of insulin is attached and Ben dials in the dose that he needs. Although his insulin monitoring is easier now, his disease is still challenging. “There is never a break from diabetes – it never goes into remission,” says Crystal. “In a way, Ben has felt he’s been dealt a rough hand in life. And the bottom line is, yes, it sucks. It’s unfair. But we always tell Ben that he defines his diabetes, it doesn’t define him. And we try to focus our energies on managing it the best we can and trying to help find a cure.”
To that end, the Murrays have become deeply involved in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Sean is now on the national board, and through a local walk, letter writing campaigns and some speaking engagements, Ben has turned into one of the top fundraisers in the country. “He’s become a bit of a poster child for diabetes in our community,” says Crystal, who now also has two daughters. “Sometimes he likes the attention and other times he would like to be more anonymous.”
One thing that’s not up for debate is that fundraising like Ben’s has resulted in huge advances in diabetes research. “Some amazing breakthroughs are being made,” says Sean. “I truly believe that in Ben’s lifetime they will discover a cure.”
Type 1 diabetes
What it is: In Type 1 diabetes, (formerly known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent
diabetes), the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, which help the body regulate blood sugar levels, or glucose. More than 240,000 Canadians have Type 1 diabetes. It is usually diagnosed in children, but can be diagnosed in adults, too.
Signs and symptoms: Extreme thirst, frequent urination, drowsiness or lethargy, increased appetite, sudden weight loss for no reason, sudden vision changes, sugar in urine, fruity odour on breath, heavy or laboured breathing, stupor or unconsciousness. These symptoms may occur suddenly.
Treatment: Multiple daily insulin doses via injection or pump, regular blood glucose testing
and monitoring, dietary and physical activity management. Causes: Unknown, but related
to genetics and environmental triggers.
Long-term impact: Leading cause of kidney failure, adult blindness, stroke, heart disease,
nerve damage and amputation.
—Adapted from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Canada website, www.jdrf.ca
Published March 2010