Liam, 14, is an outgoing and friendly teenager who loves to play soccer and socialize with his friends. He also doesn’t shy away from discussing his type 1 diabetes, hoping that by sharing his experiences, he can help to educate and empower others.
Since accepting and adjusting to his diagnosis, Liam has learned to embrace his diabetes. He shows his pump and glucose monitor to his friends and is happy to explain its purpose. If players on the soccer field accidentally pull out Liam’s pump site or monitor during a game, he assures them it’s okay.
The Philadelphia native knows that being open about his diagnosis can help to educate people and inspire other children who were recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Liam’s family is proud of how far he’s come, and are continuously impressed by his positive, proactive attitude toward managing his diabetes.
Not his usual self
In February 2015, Liam was playing in an all-day, indoor soccer tournament, when his mom realized something was going on. “He kept having to run to the bathroom, way more than usual,” recalls his mother, Kate.
That night, Kate did a quick Internet search of Liam’s symptoms. Diabetes emerged as a possibility, but she was skeptical that it was the problem.
“I didn’t think it could be diabetes because Liam was so thin,” she says. “It turns out I only really knew about type 2 diabetes, and not type 1.”
Two days later, Liam developed a very bad stomachache. His dad, Rudy, brought him to David Banner, MD, an attending physician at Primary Care, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Campus in Philadelphia. Dr. Banner examined Liam and tested his blood sugar level. The monitor just read, “HIGH,” indicating diabetes. Liam’s family was sent immediately to the CHOP emergency department. He was admitted to the hospital and referred to the Diabetes Center for Children at CHOP.
Testing in the emergency room confirmed that Liam’s blood sugar level was 697. He had type 1 diabetes, a chronic (meaning it never goes away), autoimmune disease that causes the pancreas to produce little or no insulin. Type 1 diabetes can lead to serious complications or can be fatal if not properly managed.
Coaching the whole team
While in the hospital, Liam’s family immediately started undergoing training to learn more about treating his condition. The Diabetes Center for Children used a coordinated team approach to help Liam’s family learn to manage day-to-day life with diabetes. The family’s team was comprised of specialists to provide coaching on treating Liam’s medical needs, addressing diet and nutrition, and handling emotions.
“Everything was a blur at the hospital, and at first, it all felt very overwhelming,” recalls Kate. “You haven’t really slept — you’re exhausted — and all of the sudden you’re learning about blood testing, carbohydrate counting, and doing math calculations.”
Liam’s family was comforted by the patience and expertise of CHOP’s clinicians and their family focus. “The classes were really great and it got easier. It was very family oriented, which was really important to us,” says Kate.
“It was great that we had the experts at chop who took things one step at a time. they put you on a solid path and coach you as a family — it was great to have that trust.”
In addition to Liam’s physical needs, his family was concerned about how he was managing his diagnosis emotionally.
“Liam was very quiet at first after his diagnosis,” says Kate. “He was particularly upset about what diabetes would mean for him as an athlete, and he wondered if he could play soccer again.”
Both CHOP’s staff and fellow patients played an important role in improving Liam’s spirits. Team members at CHOP with diabetes stopped in to visit and provide encouragement. And hearing other patients discuss their management techniques made him feel less alone.
“Finding the support of other people and families who have gone through this helped us all,” says Kate.
Liam also learned about soccer stars and other athletes who have type 1 diabetes, and quickly realized that his diagnosis wouldn’t prevent him from getting back on the field again. It was a breakthrough moment for Liam, and his worry turned to determination. From that point on, Liam took the initiative to learn everything he could about this type 1 diabetes with a positive and motivated attitude.
Now 14, Liam embraces his diabetes and is very open about his condition. He frequently shares what it’s like to manage type 1 diabetes because he believes it’s important to educate others. Just like those who helped coach him through the early days of his diagnosis, he’s become an excellent coach to other people. Despite his dedication to raising awareness and helping others, Liam also doesn’t feel that his diabetes defines him.
“His attitude is that he’s Liam, he’s a soccer player, he’s a great friend — he just happens to have diabetes,” says Kate.
From the beginning, Liam has taken on much of the responsibilities of diabetes management, but his family is always there to support him.
“As we go through daily life, it feels manageable,” says Kate. “It’s also incredible to learn about the tools and technology that make living with diabetes easier.”
Liam and his family come back to CHOP about four times a year for routine screenings and evaluations. And they appreciate that Liam’s care is ongoing. They also communicate with their diabetes care team in between appointments.
“The fact that CHOP provides ongoing care is an amazing relief — you have this whole map laid out for you, and you can trust the process,” says Kate. “We are very proud of Liam and his journey!”