Skip to Content
November 14, 2018

Neenah Mother Daughter Duo Live With Type 1 Diabetes

Part 1: Resilience, Research Are Their Lifelines

Photo caption: Tammie Kersten and her daughter Kayla stay active to help manage their blood sugar levels as part of their type 1 diabetes.

November 14, 2018


Part I: Resilience, Research Are Their Lifelines

NEENAH, Wis.—Tammie Kersten, 40, wants people to know something about type 1 diabetes (T1D), also known as juvenile diabetes.

“Type 1 has nothing to do with a person’s lifestyle or exercise regimen or diet. It’s the result of an auto-immune attack on your pancreas,” said Kersten.

T1D develops when insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells are mistakenly destroyed by the body’s immune system. Insulin is the hormone that regulates the breakdown and absorption of carbohydrates from food. Without it, the body cannot change carbs (sugars and starches) into energy. As a result, extra sugar builds up in the blood. Every day, people with T1D must inject insulin to keep their blood sugars within a healthy range and prevent life-threatening complications.

Kersten, who lives in Neenah, has lived daily with the chronic disease since her surprise diagnosis 11 years ago, shortly after giving birth to her second child, Kayla. During her pregnancy, she was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, a relatively common condition for pregnant women that most often resolves after giving birth. Tammie’s body recalibrated after Kayla was born; however, 18 months later, drastic weight loss and lethargy led her back to her doctor’s office with a long list of physical, mental and emotional concerns. Initially misdiagnosed as having type 2 diabetes, Tammie would later go to a specialist to find out she was in fact type-1 diabetic.

In an unwelcome twist of fate and probable genetics, Tammie’s little girl, Kayla, was diagnosed with T1D eight years later, after some heavy-duty mother’s intuition caused Tammie to test Kayla’s blood sugar.

“I remember having dreams that something bad was going to happen to Kayla for about two weeks before to her diagnosis,” said Tammie. 

Their family, which also includes pipefitter-husband Dave and big brother Noah, had gone to Minnesota for a weekend getaway. While on the trip, the family shared a hotel room. Kayla got up to go to the bathroom four times in one night, setting off alarms for Tammie, who knew frequent urination was a symptom of undiagnosed diabetes. After returning home, Kayla, then eight-years-old got into a spat with her parents and was sent to her room.

“She came downstairs and said, ‘Mom, I am just so mad, and I can’t stop being so mad.’ That’s when I got my meter and tested her. Her blood sugar was over 600,” said Tammie.

That 600 reading is a dangerous number. A healthy blood sugar level should be between 80 and 120.

The family brought Kayla to the emergency department before she was in full diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a dangerous level of blood acids called ketones that result from lack of insulin. Without access to carbohydrate energy, the body responds by breaking down fats as fuel, and ketones are a byproduct. Diabetic ketoacidosis can lead to loss of consciousness and, eventually, it can be deadly.

“People say, ‘You’re so lucky because you knew what was going on, but it’s the exact opposite. I do know, and I would never want this for Kayla,” Tammie said.

The family visited Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin after Kayla’s diagnosis and was introduced to Susanne Cabrera, MD, a pediatrician who is fellowship-trained in pediatric endocrinology.

“The diabetes parent classes are called “survival training” and they are rigorous and comprehensive beyond any training I got as an adult T1D patient. The staff, doctors and continuing education has been a godsend to our entire family,” said Tammie.

As for Tammie, she is under the care of Christine Arendt, APNP, 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.”

Today, the mother-daughter duo navigates the highs and lows of this life-threatening disease together.

“I believe Kayla’s diagnosis saved my life,” said Tammie.

This is a stunning admission from the woman who tends constantly to her daughter’s health; forming a loop of love and support.


Photo captions: After plenty of advance planning with the camp nurse, Kayla, 13, went to camp for a week last summer. Kayla is a successful athlete and plays year-round league volleyball.

Tammie and Kayla’s story is a two-part series. The next portion of their story will be released later this week. Part II will focus on how the mother and daughter manage their disease.

About ThedaCare

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.

For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.

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.