Finding Peace of Mind
Jill Harrison teaches early childhood education at a community college in Auburn, Michigan, and is the mom to three children: Benjamin (15), Nathan (12) and Ella (11). In addition to the normal business of an active family, Harrison’s two eldest sons also have type 1 diabetes.
Before Benjamin’s diagnosis in 2017, the family had no experience with type 1 diabetes (T1D). “We were clueless. We have no family history of type 1 diabetes. There are autoimmune issues, maybe there’s some connection there, but nothing serious, nothing profound, nothing large, just typical thyroid issues or things like that. We had no idea.”
With no prior experience with diabetes, the Harrisons initially missed the signs of type 1, and Ben was in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) when he was diagnosed. Six months later, however, when Jill’s younger son, Nathan, started showing signs of T1D the family was more aware of the signs and took him to the hospital. Fortunately, Nathan was not in DKA at the time of his diagnosis.
“Luckily we were much more knowledgeable, and we caught it a lot earlier. But, the shock of that one was, I think even more intense in a lot of ways, because we really weren’t expecting to have to worry about our other children.”
Second time around
Jill thinks Nathan’s adjustment was a lot easier due to the family’s new knowledge and experience with T1D. “Our world is very diabetes-related. It’s very normal. In fact, our younger daughter probably rivals anyone in her knowledge of diabetes, because we really just live that. It’s helped in a lot of ways in that normalcy that I think a lot of other kids don’t get because it really can be so isolating.”
Since her sons’ diagnoses, the family has participated in the TrialNet screening to test for antibodies that indicate a higher risk of developing T1D. So far, Ella has luckily been antibody-free. But Jill explains, “It’s one of those things where we are cautious, but it feels like it’s inevitable that the other shoe will drop, especially when you already have two, but so far she’s been healthy.”
Finding ways to keep her family safe and ensure that people know how to treat type 1 has been difficult. Jill worried about explaining how to use a glucagon would be too intimidating for other people, such as other parents or coaches, to handle.
“If we share this information, will our child be excluded? Will people say, ‘I don’t want them to come because this is too much. I don’t want to handle this risk.’ It is difficult because when you’re showing someone something, then I think there’s the implication that they think it’s probably going to be used or that they’re going to have to use it.”
A glucagon treatment introduced in 2019 that is administered via nasal spray—BAQSIMI—has given the Harrisons more flexibility and peace of mind. The family keeps the rescue treatment throughout their house, in their bags, cars and cabinets. Compared to the old glucagon kits that required mixing solutions and injecting with a large syringe, the Harrisons have found BAQSIMI to be far less intimidating and more user-friendly.
“The great thing is they have siblings that definitely know how to use it. I feel much more confident that our younger daughter would be able to help one of the boys if they needed it because it’s so much less intimidating. Or, even a friend, if I could walk someone through something, it would feel a lot easier, better.”
Despite Jill’s children with T1D being in their teens, she recognizes how BAQSIMI could be useful for families with young children. “They may not be able to advocate for themselves or to even really recognize their lows and tell somebody. I think that BAQSIMI is even more important for those parents because they really need to share that with their childcare providers or people that can really help.”
New resources and technology have been essential for Jill’s family. She is a strong advocate for continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) and sees advancing science as essential to managing diabetes.
“I think that our kids will do so much better long term because they are able to keep it somewhat more controlled.”
Educational content related to severe hypoglycemia is made possible with support from Lilly Diabetes, an active partner of Beyond Type 1 at the time of publication. Editorial control rests solely on Beyond Type 1.