It was June 18, 2008, and Elisabeth Bourdeau remembers it well. Her 18-month-old son, Isaac, was nursing a lot and seemed fussy, and he’d been that way often. Could be teething, right? But then he started breathing fast. Really fast. So fast she decided to take him to the Emergency Room.
Looking back, Bourdeau believes she accepted the ER doctor’s diagnosis of croup – and shot of steroids – readily because it was something simple that she could get her head around. She also remembers the ER nurse, who looked her in the eye and said, “You’re the mother. If you think something is wrong, don’t worry about what the doctor said. You come back.” Two hours later they were back, and this time a new doctor immediately checked Isaac’s blood sugar. Diagnosis: type 1 diabetes.
That was the beginning of the journey for the Bourdeau family – Elisabeth, husband Roger, Isaac (now 3) and daughter Ava, 5 – who have just launched Diabetes Squared, a website and series of webisodes designed to shine the light on daily life with type 1 diabetes.
Becoming a Pancreas
Isaac’s diagnosis didn’t scare Elisabeth right at first. “As a lot of people are, I think I was almost blissfully ignorant,” she says. Isaac went the ICU to get stabilized, and stayed in the hospital for about a week while his parents learned to manage his condition. And that was when Bourdeau learned that she would have to compensate for one of her son’s vital organs, keeping his blood sugar at a safe level – via as many as five to six insulin injections per day – through snacks, meals, illness, exercise, changing weather and all the other factors that can have an impact.
“It’s not as simple as just watching what you eat and cutting out the sugar,” Bourdeau explains. “We’re supposed to act like a pancreas, but we’re only human.” That was when she understood what a responsibility she was taking on. And that’s when the fear set in. “One false move and he could be in a coma,” she says.
Elisabeth mastered her new role and learned she could manage Isaac’s condition. Then the family’s lives took another turn this past February, when Ava was diagnosed. After a mild case of pneumonia, Ava started wetting her bed, something she hadn’t done even during potty training. And she was drinking lots. Bourdeau finally tested Ava with Isaac’s meter and found her blood sugar critically high. So it was back to the hospital to confirm that the family now had two kids with type 1 diabetes.
Now Times Two
It was this convergence of numbers that led the Bourdeaus to create Diabetes Squared. The Santa Monica family relocated from New York about five years ago so Roger could work as an editor in reality television. But the work, like the economy, had slowed down by the time of Ava’s diagnosis, giving Reggie some free time. He and Elisabeth, who has worked as a television producer, decided to turn the cameras on their family. “We thought, well, now we have our own little drama in our house,” Elisabeth says.
Elisabeth gets frustrated when people confuse her children’s disease with type 2 diabetes and assume their condition has something to do with her feeding them a poor diet. The two types of diabetes really aren’t much alike. “I almost wish there were two different names, because they really are different,” she says.
In type 1 diabetes, your pancreas does not make insulin, a hormone needed to regulate your blood sugar. Experts aren’t sure what triggers it, but it usually is diagnosed in childhood. In type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t respond properly to the insulin it produces. Most people with type 2 diabetes are overweight, sedentary and have poor diets at the time of diagnosis, and experts think these are big factors in triggering the disease. Type 2 diabetes usually comes on later in life, though increases in childhood obesity mean it is now seen more often in kids.
A Peek At the Grind
The Diabetes Squared films – the Bourdeaus plan to make 50 of them, with weekly updates – won’t really get bogged down in technical jargon. In fact, Elisabeth says the goal is to make them so engaging that people without diabetes will want to watch. Take a look at Ava as she explains that “diabetes is something I have to control,” then pricks her finger and tests her blood for the camera, and it’s hard not to get hooked. The production values are good, but the Bourdeaus haven’t glammed up for the cameras. They want to show the day-in, day-out grind they have to cope with. “Sometimes things just take longer when you have two kids with diabetes,” says Elisabeth with a laugh.
For instance, like any family with children under 5, when they go out they have to pack stuff like extra clothes, sunscreen, and maybe a favorite toy. “We also have to pack life-saving essentials,” says Elisabeth, like glucose meters, insulin, juice and snacks. “And you get used to that.”
Pay them a visit and follow along at www.DiabetesSquared.com.
Tags: type 1 diabetes