A sucker with a message

Schools: Diabetic students raise cash, awareness.

Showing some heart: Shuswap Middle School student Kristen Webster

Showing some heart: Shuswap Middle School student Kristen Webster

It was a sweet way to share a tough message – diabetes sucks.

A group of School District #83 students with type 1 diabetes decided to raise both money and awareness of their disease with the sale of red heart lollipops, also known as suckers, to their fellow students.

Students Owen Webster, Claire Wuschke and Jacob Denty, along with Kristen Webster, are selling the donated suckers at lunchtime with the money to be donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

“Diabetes is a pain in the butt,” said Owen, who was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was eight-years-old.

Type 1 diabetes is chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, a hormone needed to allow sugar to enter cells to produce energy. This means the person must closely monitor their blood sugar levels and supplement with insulin either from a pump or injection.

The idea for the fundraiser was sparked when the school district facilitated a youth group meeting for students with diabetes in the district.

“It started when one of the students mentioned they did not know another person close to their age who has type 1 diabetes,” said Val Edgell, principal of Parkview Elementary. The students had time to meet and share their experiences, both good and bad, and plan to meet again.

To Owen and Claire, raising awareness was as important as raising funds.

Claire speaks of how her type 1 diabetes has set her apart at school.

“I have to test my blood sugar levels three to eight times a day,” she says, “If I’m low, I have to leave what I’m doing, get a juice and re-test.”

Low blood sugar makes Claire shaky and it cane difficult to concentrate.

Owen notes the constant monitoring can be tough.

“It’s awkward, you know, stabbing your finger and drawing blood. People think your weird, insane. A lot of people don’t understand.”

He describes how people sometimes treat him like he is contagious. Then there’s also misconceptions about the disease. For example, many people think diabetics can’t have any sugar, which is not true.

“We need sugar, so it’s not out of line for us to have something like a sucker,” says Claire.

Another misconception is that the students have an unhealthy lifestyle and have contributed to their own illness. This can be from confusion about the two types of diabetes. Unlike people with type 1 diabetes, the bodies of people with type 2 diabetes make insulin. But either their pancreas does not make enough insulin or the body cannot use the insulin well enough.

The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, but genetics may play a role in this process, and exposure to certain environmental factors, such as viruses, may trigger the disease.

“It would be better if people got it more,” Owen said.