This past spring, Layla Henschen, 2, kept “puffing” water, her mother Ashley Henschen recalled. At first she wondered if it was the heat that made her daughter so thirsty.
“She drank almost two cups of water each time,” Henschen, 33, of Indianapolis, tells TODAY.com. “Her diapers were just constantly wet. We would change her diaper. Then it would be soaked within 30 minutes so it would need to be replaced. She was 22 months at the time, so it’s unusual to be soaked so quickly.”
Henschen was pretty sure something was wrong with her daughter’s thirst and urination, and changing her diapers had become tiresome, so she decided to call the doctor. That led to Layla getting a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes before she got much sicker.
“I just trusted my gut,” says Henschen. “Her blood sugar was around 500, while a normal blood sugar for someone her age should be between 80 and 100.” Drink, soak diapers, eat more
As of May 2022, Henschen noticed that Layla was constantly drinking water. Temperatures were rising, so Henschen thought Layla was adjusting to the heat. Although Henschen was concerned that Layla was soaking all of her diapers.
“I thought, ‘Should we make diapers bigger? Do we need night diapers?'” says Henschen.
But then she noticed that her daughter was acting irritable and often reaching for snacks in the pantry. Still, it felt hard to understand whether these behavioral changes were a new developmental stage or a problem.
“We kind of brushed it off. ‘She’s growing,'” Henschen recalls. “It seemed like every sign and symptom could easily be brushed off as something else.”
Layla’s parents initially attributed her attitude change to “the terrible twos.”
“She was quite irritable. It was difficult to go to a restaurant in those days,’ says Henschen. “We had been traveling and she was just awful all the time. They warn you about going out with your 2 year old to a restaurant and stuff. So she had all the signs, but since we didn’t know what to look for, (we missed it).”
After Layla had consistently soaked her diapers for two weeks, so that Henschen had to change all her bedding every morning, Henschen had had enough and called the pediatrician.
“One of the nurse’s questions was, ‘Does she wake up soaked every morning?’ and I said, “Yes,” shares Henschen.
The nurse told Henschen to bring Layla in immediately. After a urine test, doctors noticed Layla’s elevated blood glucose levels and diagnosed diabetes.
“It was never a thought in my mind,” says Henschen. “I was so confused. They said that (her blood sugar) is so high, you have to rush to Riley (Children’s Hospital) right now, and they talked about being (in) the pediatric intensive care unit, and it was just such an overwhelming experience. … It was just so shocking.
When Layla arrived at the hospital, doctors ran some more tests and discovered she had diabetic ketoacidosis, which occurs when a person doesn’t have enough insulin to convert sugar into energy. Instead, the liver uses fat for fuel, causing ketones to build up, which can be dangerous at high levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Henschen brought her daughter to the doctor at the right time.
“They were like, ‘How did you catch this? When we see patients come in with this high blood sugar, it’s usually to the point where they go into a diabetic coma,'” says the mother. “They said it was diabetes. … I knew Type 1 was worse, and when they said Type 1, that was just the most shocking thing.
Diabetes type 1
“Type 1 diabetes is diabetes due to insulin deficiency, and the most common cause of type 1 diabetes is autoimmune disease,” Dr. Tamara Hannon, director of the Pediatric Diabetes Program at Riley Hospital for Children, who did not treat Layla, TODAY. com. “Over time, the autoimmune response destroys these pancreatic beta cells, so the body can’t make enough insulin to meet its needs.”
Signs of type 1 diabetes include:
“Parents notice that their child is using the bathroom more than usual, urinating more than usual, and drinking more than usual,” says Hannon. “It means a lot of food. Not having insulin is like starving.”
Insulin, a hormone, helps the body get energy from sugar into the cells. But without it, the sugar and fat are not properly stored and converted into energy. That means that even if people eat more, they don’t gain weight.
“Unexpected weight loss is another symptom,” says Hannon. “If the diabetes becomes more severe before these symptoms are discovered, a person can become very ill. They may have abdominal pain. They can feel sick.”
If parents notice these symptoms, they should call their pediatrician for an appointment, she says. “A simple blood test can diagnose diabetes,” she adds.
People with type 1 diabetes must use insulin throughout their lives. They cannot rely on the drugs that can help people with type 2 diabetes control their blood glucose levels.
“If you’re not making insulin, you need to replace insulin,” she says. “In type 1 diabetes, insulin is absolutely necessary.”
Layla’s life with type 1 diabetes
Layla stayed in the hospital for two days after her diagnosis. While there, Henschen and her husband learned how to care for a child with type 1 diabetes.
“It was very hard to accept it, and you want to grieve, but you have to accept it first, and there are so many emotions,” she says. “I had to put my emotions aside and learn how to take care of my baby. That’s the only choice I had.”
Almost immediately, the family noticed a change in Layla’s mood.
‘She’s happier now. We know she just wasn’t feeling well, and her attitude changed while we were in the hospital,” says Henschen. “She ran across the room.”
There has been a bit of a learning curve. Layla used to reach for a snack when she was hungry, but now Henschen has to read the labels to see how many carbs are in them and whether Layla might need an insulin shot to enjoy the food. They try to associate the insulin with something fun.
“We give her a high five after her injections,” says Henschen. “It’s so crazy to see a 2-year-old so strong and brave.”
Layla wears a blood glucose meter on her arm, which relays real-time readings of her blood sugar to her parents’ phones.
“We don’t have to check her sugar levels with a finger prick before meals, which is nice. But it’s difficult because she doesn’t understand it either,’ says Henschen. “Distract her or let’s do the high five, that really helps.”
After her daughter’s diagnosis, Henschen worried that Layla could only eat sugar-free sweets, but she has learned that this is a “kind of stereotype.”
“It may just need more insulin,” she says. “We’re not trying to stop her from doing anything, and even when she’s an adult, I don’t want her to feel left out or like she can’t have what her friends have.”
While having a child with type 1 diabetes requires a little more planning, life hasn’t changed too dramatically. Henschen hopes that when others hear about their story, they will seek help if they notice something is wrong with their child.
“Trust your mother if you think something is wrong,” she says. “The worst thing the doctor can say is, ‘No, she’s fine.'”
This article was originally published on TODAY.com