Helping Kids Who Just Want to be “Normal”
“It’s going to be okay,” pharmacy students assure children with Type 1 diabetes.
“It’s going to be okay,” Presbyterian College School of Pharmacy student Lucie Sikes told 10-year-old Addy Byrd when she had to change the pod site on her insulin pump again.
Byrd had changed it only 15 hours before. She could usually go three days before changing it.
Sikes, like Byrd, is a Type 1 diabetic, and jumped right in to help her.
“I knew she could do it, but she was rather upset and frustrated about having to change it so early,” Sikes said. “Her pod was still very sticky so it was very painful to remove.
“Not to mention, it is never fun to have another needle stick.”
Helping Kids Who Just Want to be “Normal”
Pricking their fingers to check their blood sugar, giving themselves shots, counting how many carbs they eat, monitoring their blood sugar levels, and changing insulin pump sites are part of life for Type 1 diabetics.
“Life with Type 1 diabetes is certainly not for the faint of heart,” Sikes said. Now in her third year at the PC School of Pharmacy, she has been living with Type 1 diabetes since she was 10.
For the past 26 years, children with Type 1 diabetes from Greenwood County have found comfort and support by attending Camp Porcupine at the Greenwood Y. There, they are around others who face the same challenges they do.
Sikes has volunteered at the Self Regional Healthcare-hosted camp every summer she’s been at the PC School of Pharmacy. She met Byrd this year.
The campers spend a week enjoying fun activities like swimming and kickball, while also learning how to manage their diabetes when they exercise.
“These kids have to deal with low and high blood sugars that often keep them from activities and making them feel sick at times,” Sikes said. “I can definitely identify with their struggles to keep healthy but also wanting to be ‘normal’ like everyone else.”
While the other 12 campers had formed bonds since seeing one another year after year, Byrd was one of the youngest at the camp, and it was her first time there.
So, meeting Sikes this year was a huge help for Byrd.
“The campers identify with me because I share their condition. I have shared many of the same experiences and feelings that they have that no else can truly understand,” Sikes said.
“When I tell them they can do anything they dream to do, they really listen.”
The Pharmacist’s Role in Diabetes Management
Since she lives with the condition every day, Sikes offered the campers support that is irreplaceable. All the same, the support that the eleven other pharmacy students and Dr. Eileen Ward, associate professor of pharmacy practice, provided to the campers this year was vital, according to Sikes.
“Being recognized as the medication experts allows us to offer a special perspective on disease state management that other professions might not be as familiar with,” Ward said.
For example, when another camper wasn’t responding well to her insulin, one of the pharmacy students determined that the insulin wasn’t working as it should because it had expired or had been exposed to drastic temperatures.
Once they realized the old insulin was the problem, the pharmacy students arranged to inject fresh insulin and hydrate the camper immediately so that she could get back to feeling better.
All pharmacy students had a hand in programming camp activities and helping the campers when they needed it. And each year, Ward works with two of the students on fourth-year rotations to serve in “coveted positions” at the camp, according to Sikes.
“Throughout the week, the two selected fourth-year pharmacy students check the campers’ blood sugars three or more times a day, calculate insulin dosing for snacks and meals, and help treat hypo- and hyperglycemia,” Sikes said. This year’s students were Chris Asbill and Mary Kathryn Johns.
In a way, the relationships the pharmacy students developed with the campers over the week is similar to the relationships that pharmacists develop with their patients, according to Sikes.
“In general, developing a good relationship with your pharmacist is really important for anyone with a chronic disease state because they come in contact with us nearly every month or so,” Sikes said.
Students Learn from the Campers
At Camp Porcupine, the pharmacy students learn from and are inspired by the campers too.
“Addy was so inspiring because she was so determined to keep her blood sugars in line,” Sikes said.
Byrd even convinced Sikes to get a device known as a continuous glucose monitoring system (CGM) to help her monitor her blood sugar levels.
Addy showed Sikes firsthand why she liked her CGM so much: She told Sikes she wouldn't have to prick her fingers as much, and the device provides more information about glucose level trends.
“I believe it will prove to give me tighter control of my own diabetes,” Sikes said.
A Team Effort
Sikes and fellow pharmacy students volunteered at Camp Porcupine as part of the American Pharmaceutical Association-Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP) chapter at the Presbyterian College School of Pharmacy. The School also offers diabetes education courses at its Wellness Center. Please visit Diabetes Education Services to learn more.