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Faces of Diabetes: Tiffany's story

Justine Wettschreck/Daily Globe Tiffany Ling, 11, of Sibley, Iowa, poses with Biscuit, the "shot puppy" she received while in the hospital after being diagnosed with type I diabetes at age 6.

Editors note: In November, which is Diabetes Awareness Month, the Daily Globe will run a story each Friday featuring a "face" of diabetes -- everyday people who live their lives while coping with the complications of a disease that affects millions of Americans.

SIBLEY, Iowa -- Tiffany Ling is a typical 11-year-old kid.

She likes to swim, read and draw, enjoys English and Social Studies classes in school, doesn't like spelling and got straight As on her last report card.

What makes her a little different from her classmates is type I diabetes.

Tiffany was diagnosed in first grade when she was six years old -- one of 15,000 children who are diagnosed with the disease each year, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

"She would come home from school tired and lie on the couch," said Carol, Tiffany's mom, about the time just before Tiffany was diagnosed. "Toward the end, in that last week, she started complaining that her stomach hurt."

Another symptom, one very common for diabetes, was Tiffany's thirst.

"Water, juice, whatever," Carol explained. "She was thirsty constantly."

Carol and dad Mike brought Tiffany into the doctor, who figured out quickly what was going on. Carol said Tiffany's blood sugar was at 1,200. A normal range is between 80 and 100, Carol explained.

The three of them were immediately sent to a Sioux Falls, S.D. hospital.

"The doctor said to pack for a week," Carol remembered. "I had 10 minutes."

Rather than send Tiffany in an ambulance, they drove from Sibley to Sioux Falls.

"I drove really fast," Mike admitted.

Still reeling from the news, Tiffany's parents spent the next seven days learning and learning and learning.

"They really train you," Carol said.

"They told me about testing my blood and getting shots," Tiffany said. "It was scary."

"Very scary," Carol echoed. "I think we were just in shock."

Tiffany and her parents had to learn to use the equipment to test blood and give shots. Getting the shots isn't that bad, Tiffany admitted, but she still doesn't administer the insulin to herself, something Carol said is a goal in the next few months.

"They teach you how to do it at the hospital," Carol said. "I practiced on my husband."

"I got to give my dad a shot, too," Tiffany said with a grin.

Mike grimaced, but said he didn't mind.

"I felt like I had to be the strong one," he said. "Outwardly I was being strong, but inside you're really thinking about all the things this means."

Now a student at Sibley-Ocheyedan Middle School, Tiffany was in elementary school when she was diagnosed, and the school staff was wonderful, Carol said. The school nurse helped Tiffany check her blood and keep track of her blood sugar. While in the hospital, Tiffany had been given a child-geared story book about diabetes, which her teacher then read to the class.

"It made it simple for the kids to understand and even helped some of the teachers," Carol said. "They read it each year for a couple years."

To help Tiffany keep her carbohydrates regulated, Carol packs her lunch each school day and they stick to a pretty strict schedule at home.

"It is really hard when it isn't time to eat yet and she says she's hungry," Carol admitted. "Moms are supposed to automatically feed their kids when they say they are hungry."

Tiffany gets an insulin shot each morning before breakfast and one before supper, and checks her blood sugar several times a day.

"When it gets high my stomach starts to hurt, when it gets low I get dizzy and tired," Tiffany explained.

They have all learned to keep snacks and juice on hand when they leave the house after one scary episode in the car when Tiffany's blood sugar dipped.

"She doesn't like the glucose tabs, se we bring juice boxes," Carol explained.

Tiffany tends to load up on carbs before bedtime, Carol said.

"She's got it in her head that she'll get low at night," she added.

One source of frustration for the family is the lack of a local diabetes support group. Carol said they attended meetings in Sioux Falls a few times and found them very helpful, but the meetings take place during the week on school nights, which is inconvenient. Carol said she knows of one other child in the same school system with diabetes, but doesn't know the family.

Learning about their daughter's disease is an ongoing process for Carol and Mike, who still occasionally struggle with trying to figure out why Tiffany's blood sugar went high or low and how certain foods will affect her.

These are things we just deal with every day," Carol stated. "We don't really talk to other people about it, but if we knew of someone who was diagnosed, we would sure share any information we have."

Carol said Tiffany doesn't go on sleepovers or to children's birthday parties, and Carol tends to tag along for class trips. Tiffany has been offered the opportunity to attend summer camp for children with diabetes, but has declined each time.

"She really is a homebody," Carol said.

Once Tiffany is comfortable giving herself the insulin shots, Carol said things will be easier on both of them. In the meantime, she is excited about a diabetes research program through Sanford Health Network.

Knowing it was nothing they did, Carol said she still can't help but wonder if there was something they could have done differently which would have prevented Tiffany from getting diabetes.

"How did she get it? Why her?" she asked.

But even with type I diabetes, Carol said Tiffany is just like any other kid.

Asked what advice she would have for a child newly diagnosed with diabetes, Tiffany did not hesitate.

"You're not any different than anyone else," she advised. "You just have to get shots and check your blood. You'll get used to it."

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