EDINBURG — Doctors are seeing a significant rise in the number of juvenile diabetes cases in the Rio Grande Valley.
Madison Ramirez is an 8-year-old living with Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes. She was diagnosed four years ago.
“She lost lots of weight; she started to urinate the bed at night,” said Cecilia Ramirez, Madison’s mother. “And, for a 4-year-old, that’s kind of not normal, to urinate the bed every night.”
Madison was taken to the doctor.
“He did blood tests, and it took a couple of days,” said Eusebio Ramirez, Madison’s father. “He let us know, we needed to take her to the hospital right away, that she has Type 1 diabetes. So we were like, ‘What’s that?’”
Pediatric Endocrinologist Jose David Gamez said, “Type 1, the juvenile diabetes, is when your pancreas, which is the organ behind your stomach that produces insulin, stops producing insulin. When you don’t have insulin, you don’t control your blood sugars. I have to give you the insulin.”
Every day, three times a day, Madison Ramirez heads to the nurses office to get her insulin shot. Day after day, they give her insulin or a little snack, depending on what her blood sugar reading demands.
Madison is one of an estimated 1,750 children in the Rio Grande Valley with Type 1 diabetes. This type of diabetes can’t be predicted or cured. It can only be controlled.
Some parents wonder what they could’ve done differently.
“The first thing that I have to be 100 percent sure is to take that load off their backs,” Dr. Gamez said. “A lot of times they feel guilty. ‘What did I do to cause this in my kid?’ Nothing. In Type 1 diabetes, that process, we cannot stop it.”
Angel Gomez is one of a growing number of young people to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. He was only 13 years old when his health problems began.
“My weight, I started feeling tired all of the sudden, stuff on my neck, like lines,” he said.
“He was always tired, sleeping,” said Irene Hernandez, Angel Gomez’s mother. “If we were in the car, he would fall asleep. In the house, he was always asleep, always tired. (He) never wanted to do anything.”
Dr. Gamez said, “One of the first things is when they start gaining weight. Your pancreas starts producing a lot of insulin, that state of too much insulin. You start producing darkening of the skin in the back of the neck. That’s one of the first things.”
Type 2 was once referred to as adult onset diabetes. It’s not something Angel Gomez thought he’d have to deal with.
Gomez said, “Part of me was like, ‘Nothing’s going to happen to me.’ I didn’t think that much of it. Everyone warns you, the doctors warn you. This is bad, you could die. I put it off, didn’t think anything of it. I started thinking about it. It’s a big thing.”
Type 2 diabetes has become so important that the state now mandates children be screened in school for signs of diabetes.
“We are trying to identify those signs and symptoms early,” said Albert Lopez with Edinburg CISD. “Have the student go before a doctor, so a doctor can perform baseline assessments, perhaps even uncover pre-diabetes or perhaps even diabetes, and then take intervention.”
The biggest indicators of Type 2 diabetes are weight gain and darkened skin on the back of the neck.
“That’s the first sign that you can take a look with your kids,” Dr. Gamez said. “If you see that the back of the neck, armpits, groins, let me know, we’re going to do some blood work.”
Irene Hernandez said her son Angel Gomez went through a lengthy process. “They did sleep tests, many tests, and they were able to discover he had diabetes.”
“Socially and mentally, it’s two things you have to fight,” Gomez said. “When you’re out with friends and everyone is out eating pizza and burgers, you can’t be doing that. You know, as much as you’d like to, you can’t. It’s hard,” he said. “Sometimes there were times when I didn’t want to hang out with friends because the temptation was there.”
Dr. Gamez said Type 2 diabetes goes hand-in-hand with obesity. “Now, with increasing rates of obesity in our children, in our kids, with the lifestyle changes we’ve seen over the last two decades, kids they don’t go out, they don’t play outside,” he said.
Experts said it’s the sedentary lifestyle and poor diet that leads to Type 2 diabetes showing up in children.
“The good news, and I always tell this to the parents, you can reverse that process,” Dr. Gamez said. “Change your habits and start eating healthy, start doing a lot of physical activity.”
Angel Gomez had bariatric surgery last year to get his weight under control. So far, he’s lost 80 pounds and his diabetes is in check.
“If i’m not careful, it’ll come back,” he said. “The surgery diminishes the chances, because my stomach is super small.”
Gomez’s mom said, “So now that he is about to leave, to start his life in college, he has the knowledge and the ability to say ‘No, because this is not good for my health.’ That was very important for me. I feel happy and blessed to know that Angel, I can say thank you God, that Angel is diabetes-free.”
As long as Gomez keeps his weight under control and maintains a healthy diet, the diabetes should stay away.
The South Texas Juvenile Diabetes Association helps families whose children have been diagnosed with diabetes. They help families cope with the devastating diagnosis. Their hotline is available 24 hours a day. The number to call is 956-583-2463.