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St. Mary's student helps others with diabetes

For her lunch Friday, Hailey Ordal, a junior at St. Mary's School, packed whole wheat orzo with tomatoes, zucchini, feta cheese and grilled chicken.

This meal, like all Ordal’s lunches, has been thoughtfully prepared to include the right amount of carbohydrates, fat and protein to complement her midday dose of insulin.

“I think, how many grams of carbohydrates are there? Are they complex carbohydrates? Are they simple carbohydrates? And how fast will it be in my bloodstream?” she said.

Ordal also takes into account her afternoon activities. For example, she increases her carb intake if she’s playing tennis and reduces it if she has a test because the stress causes her blood sugar to go up.

And at least five times a day, she gives herself a shot of insulin.

Two years ago, Ordal, now 17, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Every day since has been a balancing act as she tries to keep her blood sugar in check.

It was overwhelming at first, and there weren't a lot of resources in the area for youth with Type 1 diabetes, she said.

Ordal is aware of three other students at St. Mary’s with Type 1 diabetes, and Sarah Blount, a Medford School District nurse, said there are 37 students in the district who have been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 0.26 percent of people younger than 20 have Type 1 diabetes, which in Jackson County translates to about 127 youths, said Karen Girard, Oregon Health Authority's chronic disease programs manager.

An autoimmune disease, Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system mistakes its insulin-producing cells (beta cells) for a virus and destroys them. Or at least, that’s one theory, said Joy Clark, a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator for Asante.

“It means you have to take insulin injections for the rest of your life and test your blood sugar at least four times a day or six to 10 times a day for small children,” Clark said. “It’s a lot of work, and there are a lot of things that affect how much insulin you need.”

Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes can include fatigue, weight loss and extreme thirst accompanied by having to go to the bathroom all the time, Ordal said. 

Those with undiagnosed Type 1 diabetes run the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis, which occurs when there is no insulin in your body to process the sugar in your food so the body tries to burn fat for energy, creating an acid buildup in the blood, Clark explained.

“This changes the acid balance in the body, and you could get really sick or even die,” Clark said.

Ordal said she was fortunate to be diagnosed early before DKA developed. Nonetheless, she still spent three days in the hospital trying to get her blood sugar under control and learn how to maintain it.

Diabetes management can be stressful and isolating, especially for kids who have to give themselves regular injections at school and can’t be spontaneous because of their rigid insulin schedule or dietary restrictions, Ordal said.

In 2014, Ordal decided to form a support group for kids with Type 1 diabetes and their parents. More than 30 people showed up to the first meeting, and afterward one boy said he wanted to attend a support group every week.

The group meets every other month, and each meeting is centered on an activity for the kids, who range in age from 4 to 24. Last month, the group met at Lava Lanes to go bowling and, on May 21, it will meet at the Rogue Valley Family YMCA for rock climbing.

“I want the kids to know there are others out there facing the same struggles as they are and they are not alone,” Ordal said. “It also encourages them to manage their diabetes as best they can.”

While their kids play, the parents talk, vent and get advice for dealing with the specific social, physical and academic situations their children face.

The support group has since evolved into Ordal’s senior project, and she’ll be hosting a free diabetes education and management seminar from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 4, in the Large Meeting Room at the Medford library, 205 S. Central Ave.

Clark and Portland-based clinical psychologist Dr. Mike Fulop will speak, and there will be a panel discussion about glucose monitoring.

“You can think you are doing everything right and still end up high or low," Ordal said, adding that prolonged high glucose levels can cause medical complications.

While many youths, like Ordal, are capable of monitoring their own glucose levels, some can't and require the constant supervision of their parents, school staff or a school nurse, Blount said.

It all depends on how old they are, when they were diagnosed, whether they have a good concept of diabetes management and what their doctor's orders are, she said.

“Insulin, food intake and activity are the three variables you have to manage,” she said. “It’s a three-legged stool; if one thing is off, then everything is off.”

However, Clark said, kids with diabetes can still do everything everyone else does, as long as they take the extra steps necessary to keep healthy.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

St. Mary's junior Hailey Ordal was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes two years ago and now lends support to other students and families dealing with the disease. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch