St. Charles family learns to cope with boy's diabetes

When Will Timmons warns he’s “feeling wiggly,” he’s not about to
bust a dance move.

The 6-year-old has lived four years with Type 1 diabetes. When
his blood sugar dips, his legs and arms shake. Dizziness overwhelms
him. He would faint if not for the apple juice and fruit snacks
that are always nearby, delivering a quick sugar spike.

“I like diabetes,” Will said. “It gives you a lot of sugar.”

Like a little Brando mounting his motorcycle, Will swaggers to
his battery-operated four-wheeler, straps on his helmet and tears
across the cul-de-sac in front of his St. Charles home, where he
lives with parents Bill and Karen Timmons, both 43, sister Jade
Timmons, 9, and Holly, the family’s 9-month-old yellow Labrador
Retriever.

Back from his ride, Will launches into extreme sugar-burning
mode. He picks a one-sided water gun fight with Holly, squirting
the patient pup with precision marksmanship.

By the dining table, Will places one of Holly’s rawhide bones on
the front tip of his skateboard, then jumps on the back end,
launching the bone like a catapult straight toward the glass patio
door. The bone falls just short of its mark.

Next, Will runs to the living room for a quick lightsaber duel
between Star Wars figures atop a towering AT-AT walker. A Jedi
falls to his death. Now it’s time for LEGO wars in the
basement.

Then his sugar tank runs empty. On the stairs, he yells, “Mom,
I’m feeling wiggly.”

Will might think diabetes makes life sweeter, but his mother
sees things differently. Karen remembers when her 24-month-old son
constantly craved water and cried when denied his sipping cup. She
suspected diabetes, but her family was skeptical. It had been five
generations since the last member had diabetes.

Karen’s pediatrician administered a blood test. It revealed
Will’s glucose level was so high, the meter could not even read it.
The doctor told Karen to take Will to SSM Cardinal Glennon
Children’s Medical Center in St. Louis immediately, without even
packing a bag.

“It was very scary,” Karen said.

Fear is many families’ first reaction when their child is
diagnosed with diabetes, said Dave Welborn, a consultant for the
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s St. Louis area chapter.
Welborn’s nephew has Type 1 diabetes.

“To see a child get a shot is very scary; to give a shot to your
child is even scarier,” Welborn said. “And it’s not just one shot.
It could be six shots a day, plus finger sticks in between to check
blood-sugar levels. That’s a lot for a child to go through, a lot
for a family to go through.”

Welborn is coordinating the JDRF’s Walk to Cure Diabetes
fundraiser Sept. 24 in Frontier Park on the St. Charles riverfront.
Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. The 1-mile walk begins at 9 a.m.,
one hour before the city’s Oktoberfest opens in the park. Karen
Timmons is the walk’s honorary family chairwoman.

The JDRF organizes events like the walk to finance research
aimed at preventing, treating and ultimately curing Type 1
diabetes.

There are two main types of diabetes. The more common one is
Type 2, which causes the body to become resistant to insulin, a
hormone the body uses to process glucose.

In Type 1, the kind Will has, the body cannot produce sufficient
insulin. The immune system attacks insulin-producing cells in the
pancreas, causing glucose levels to build in the blood stream,
damaging organs. Type 1 used to be called “juvenile diabetes,”
though half the people diagnosed are older than 18.

During the three days Will stayed at the hospital, his family
received a crash course on diabetes care. Will was too young to
tell his parents how he felt, so the only way to know if his sugar
was low was to constantly test his blood. Karen pricked his fingers
and toes 10 times daily and injected him with two types of insulin
six times a day.

After six months, Will switched to the insulin pump he uses to
this day. The cell-phone-sized device delivers insulin through a
catheter inserted into Will’s skin, just above his buttocks. Will
carries the device itself in a fanny pack around his waist.

He also carries a continuous glucose monitor that constantly
measures his blood-sugar level through a wire inserted into his
skin near the pump catheter. The monitor tells the pump how much
insulin to deliver and when. Also, Karen manually enters Will’s
carbohydrate intake into the pump every time he eats, giving him an
insulin dose tailored for each meal.

Because the devices are not foolproof, and to make sure they are
accurately calibrated, Karen still pricks Will’s fingers and toes
several times a day to check his sugar levels.

“The shots don’t hurt anymore, but they used to hurt a lot,”
said Will, who sometimes tests his own blood.

Will wears the pump and monitor 24 hours a day, except when
swimming or bathing. They are positioned so he can sit comfortably.
Will said he forgets he is wearing them.

Will’s kindergarten teachers have been trained how to respond
when he feels “wiggly.” An emergency kit with sugary snacks is
always at the ready. The family’s system seems to work. Since his
diagnosis, Will has never fainted or been hospitalized for an
insulin emergency.

Will said only one thing about diabetes bothers him — his
classmates’ constant questions.

“They just jibber jabber, saying what’s this, what’s that,
always asking about my pump,” Will said. “It gets really annoying.
I just tell them, ‘Don’t press any buttons,’ and walk away.”