The Goodhart family’s confidence in the Diabetes Center for Children (DCC) began when they learned that it specialized in pediatric diabetes. It grew as they saw the clinicians’ vast knowledge of how children with type 1diabetes might respond to exercise or even strenuous exercise. And it soared when they learned the DCC at CHOP has counseled several teen patients who were competitive rowers like their son, Henry.
“Decades of experience and a large volume of patients have given the DCC staff a broad knowledge and hundreds of specific real-life scenarios they can draw upon to help patients. Especially patients like Henry who want to participate in sports at a high level.
“I tend to be less of a risk-taker,” says Beth Goodhart, Henry’s mother. “I wanted Henry to have a normal life, but I tended to hold back.” So when Henry, inspired by his sister’s performance on her high school team and encouraged by the fun he had at a couple of summer rowing camps, tried out for freshman crew at The Shipley School, his mom felt a mix of excitement and fear. “I thought it was going to be challenging to figure it all out,” she says.
Exercise can lower blood sugar in patients with diabetes for anywhere from two to 12 hours, and the more strenuous the activity, the bigger the effect. That is, until the athlete’s body adjusts to regular, rigorous exercise, then the effect is less, so keeping blood levels steady is a moving target.
“CHOP has been wonderful,” says Beth. “The Center has had other rowers as patients, so the clinicians understand the cycles, and that information has been really helpful for us.”
Henry follows the advice of his nurse practitioner, Melissa Andrews Rearson, MSN, CRNP. “I take a bag with me to the (Schuylkill) river every day that has glucose tablets that I take with me on the boat, and a testing kit and Glucagon and other emergency supplies for the coaches to keep on shore in case I need it.” He faithfully checks his sugar levels when he gets to the boathouse and again when he gets into his boat.
He didn’t make a big deal of his diabetes with his teammates, but he did let them know about the symptoms of low blood sugar — fatigue, turning pale, shakiness, dizziness — in case he didn’t recognize it himself. “Fortunately, that hasn’t happened,” Henry says. “I’ve been able to feel myself going low. They understand if I need to stop and take a glucose tab.” And he’s had no problems at all during races.
“It’s been surprisingly easy to manage,” Henry says. “It just takes a little extra work.” He even feels that being extra in tune to his body, along with the healthy eating habits he’s established, have helped make him a better athlete.
Beth attributes his success — in rowing and in managing his diabetes — to the guidance the family received from the DCC. The Goodharts didn’t live in the Philadelphia area when Henry was diagnosed at age 4 1/2 — only after Beth insisted, contrary to what their pediatrician at the time told them, that “something was absolutely wrong” with Henry since he had lost 20 percent of his body weight “almost overnight.” They found their way to a Joslin Diabetes Center in Livingston, NJ, which was helpful even though it didn’t specialize in children with type 1 diabetes.
After the family moved to Philadelphia in 2003, the Goodharts were urged to bring Henry to CHOP by doctors, friends and other families who’d had great experiences there. “I felt it was divine intervention that brought us here,” Beth says. “He had some other medical issues — asthma, food and seasonal allergies, kidney issues at birth — and we felt CHOP was a place that could address all his issues in one place. It’s really been a blessing to be here.”
David Langdon, MD, suggested putting the then 8-year-old Henry on an insulin pump, “which truly changed his life,” Beth says. Henry agrees: “I hated needles, and I was getting five to seven shots a day.”
Henry’s DCC team, including a nutritionist, social worker, physicians, nurse practitioners and nurse educators, has helped him, and the whole family, manage his diabetes. “It’s a disease that has to be managed 24/7,” Beth says. “All the support has been invaluable.”
The Goodharts also recognize that some families may not have all the resources they did to help them manage their child’s diabetes, so they donated to the Diabetes Hope Fund, which supports newly diagnosed DCC patients. The fund covers equipment and medication costs until the child’s insurance kicks in, helps provide transportation so families can more easily make all their clinic appointments, and offers scholarships to educational conferences.
“We talk a lot as a family about giving back, and we’re thrilled we can help other families,” Beth says.