Photo captions: Tammie Kersten and her daughter Kayla stay active to help manage their blood sugar levels as part of their type 1 diabetes. Kayla is a successful athlete and plays year-round league volleyball.
November 26, 2018
NEENAH MOTHER–DAUGHTER DUO LIVE WITH TYPE 1 DIABETES
Part II: Managing the Disease as a Family
NEENAH, Wis. – “When I don’t feel well and I am having a bad day, I worry that I am not doing my best for my daughter,” said Tammie Kersten. “Imagine what it’s like when you have the flu at the same time your child gets the flu. That’s what it feels like at our house some days. No one is at their best and we don’t see an end to it. We need a cure.”
Tammie Kersten and her 13-year-old daughter, Kayla, are both living with type 1 diabetes. Tammie was diagnosed 11 years ago, shortly after giving birth to Kayla. When Kayla was eight-years-old, she was also diagnosed.
Now the pair is actively managing the disease every day, together.
At the time of the Tammie’s diagnosis, there was no endocrinologist, or diabetes specialist, in the Fox Valley. That changed in 2008. Today, Tammie is under the care of Christine Arendt, Advanced Practice Nurse Prescriber, of ThedaCare Physicians Endocrinology-Neenah.
“Tammie is a positive role model for Kayla. She fights for herself and for her daughter,” Arendt said. “She’s equipped with the right knowledge and the right attitude and she’s a champion for T1D in the community.”
Arendt explained that caring for people with type 1 Diabetes (T1D) means recognizing all the factors that influence the patients’ ability to manage their disease.
“Can they afford their insulin? Are they a good candidate for a pump? What other chronic health conditions do they have, like hypertension or depression, which can affect their diabetes?” said Arendt. “We have to support and encourage people who have T1D because it’s like having another job on top of all your other responsibilities.”
For example, a pancreas that no longer produces insulin is at the heart of T1D, so insulin substitution seems like it would be an easy solution. But Tammie explained it is not easy at all.
“Injected insulin is not the same as the insulin that your body produces,” she said. “You can inject the same amount of insulin for three days in a row and get three drastically different results.”
The countless chemical regulations that a normal healthy person’s body manages all day long are lost to people with T1D. Insulin injections and carb intakes feel like a daily guessing game, largely affected by a diabetic person’s overall health, sleep patterns, stress levels, nutritional intake, physical activity, hormonal activity—and many other unknown or immeasurable factors.
Kayla uses a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to track her blood sugars every minute of the day and night. The adhesive device is replaced every seven days when a needle guides a small wire under Kayla’s skin. An app on her parents’ phones keeps them aware of her health 24/7.
“I have to admit, that’s an improvement,” said Tammie. “For the first two years, Dave and I took turns testing her every two hours all night long, poking her finger. That was awful.”
Tammie explained although the process is more convenient, it’s not the only aspect they must take into account.
“The CGM just assists us,” she said. “The technology has to work and there are a lot of other factors that affect how well it works. For example, if you’re dehydrated, put pressure on it or if you lie on it, the device might not work properly.”
Tammie explained that because information is always available, she has had to learn not to obsess over Kayla’s numbers or her own numbers all day long. She admits that they both suffer with this daily anxiety.
“We always say, ‘Why can’t I just be a person?’ It’s not possible. Everything is constantly about diabetes,” said Tammie.
Most days Tammie works as a project manager at a market research firm and holds a second part-time job at the Neenah-Menasha YMCA to help pay for her membership. She does a cardio workout five days a week because of the positive effects of exercise on her blood sugar levels.
Kayla plays volleyball and runs track. She has also discovered she can manage her blood sugar with 15 youthful minutes bouncing on the trampoline in her back yard.
“Her B1 sugar comes right down after that,” Tammie said. “That quick jump on the trampoline really helps manage her blood sugar levels.”
Kayla’s concerns as a 13-year-old girl take a different shape. She is the only one in her grade who has T1D. Tammie remembered a time when Kayla silenced her CGM alarms during the school day because other kids would think her phone was going off in class.
“She felt very isolated,” her mother explained. “But turning off her alarms was simply not safe.”
Kayla’s school has a health aide, but no nurse on site. To make sure they’re communicating at all times, Kayla and her mom text about issues during the day.
Kayla also finds support in other teens living with the disease. She has attended a camp put on by the American Diabetes Association for kids with T1D. One camp in particular became a triumph for the family. While away, Kayla had to make an emergency trip home because her monitor failed. After getting a replacement, Kayla returned to camp.
“We were so pleased she could return to camp,” said Tammie. “It was a huge victory for her and for us, as her parents.”
Kayla has benefited from counseling to help her cast her diagnosis in a different light, one of responsibility and resilience.
Tammie and her husband seek support from other families with T1D and they follow research advancements through the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
“There are a lot of other T1D moms and dads living in the Fox Valley. We support one another, trade stories and share advice,” Tammie said. “But I am not aware of another T1D mom who has T1D child.”
It’s a unique aspect to a disease they’re fighting as a family.
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization serves a community of more than 600,000 residents and employs more than 6,700 healthcare professionals throughout the regions. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 31 clinics in nine counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.
Media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public Relations Specialist at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.