Lauren Anderson received her undergraduate degree in Nutritional and Medical Dietetics in 2008, then returned to school in May 2009 for an accelerated Bachelors of Science, Nursing (BSN) program. She received her nursing degree from University of Missouri – St. Louis in 2010, and began working at St. Louis Children’s Hospital as a nurse and part-time educator two months later. She knew she wanted to be a diabetes educator from her time as an undergrad, and became a full-time educator at Children’s in October 2013. She tells From the Bedside about Braden, a newly diagnosed 10-year-old she met several months ago, who continues to inspire her today.
I met Braden and his family a couple years after I started at Children’s. They were admitted on a Monday, late at night. They all of a sudden got this call from their doctor’s office saying, “You have to go to the hospital immediately.”
It’s a very time-sensitive diagnosis. They’re from Springfield, Missouri, so they packed all their things and rushed to the hospital. Then we found out first thing Tuesday morning that we weren’t covered by their insurance. But we said, “You’re here, we’re going to teach you, we’re going to do everything we can to get you educated.” They wouldn’t be able to follow-up here in the future, but we could at least get them situated with appointments at another hospital.
The financial aspect can be kind of overwhelming in and of itself, and this family was definitely overwhelmed. Mom was tearful, dad was nervous, but Braden, who this was all affecting, just pulled his whole family together and said, “You know guys, we’ll get through this. It’ll be okay.”
He was inspiring to me, because we are usually holding the hand of the little child, and he was doing that for his parents, myself, and even the doctors – getting everyone on the same team and getting things going. Throughout his whole stay, he was just an inspiration the way he took everything in stride.
Families are here for 48 hours, and as educators we spend about four hours with them one day and six the other. We go from total strangers to knowing everything about them – their routines, their meals, their insurance, their employer. We have a bunch of classes one-on-one with them if we’re able, where we very carefully try to ease them into the disease, teach them how to test their blood sugar and, eventually, give themselves insulin injections.
He gave me a saline injection in my arm, then asked if he could give one to himself. Most kids wait a day to get used to the idea, but Braden said, “Let’s just do it. Let’s get it over with.”
He automatically went for the leg, which kids are usually scared to do. He did it, looked at his mom, and said, “It’s no big deal. Can I play the drums on Saturday?”
He was the ring leader of the family, which was kind of cool. Sometimes the kids are kicking, screaming, on the floor, having tantrums – reasonably so. They’re going to have to get four to five shots a day for the rest of their life. I wouldn’t be cool with that. I’d be having a fit. But Braden, he just wanted to be able to do the things he did before.
I’d never seen anyone quite like him. His spunk – he was also brilliant. He is a really smart kid, and he picked up the carb counting math, which can really make or break the way a kid fares. For being ten-years-old, he was so together, and talented in so many ways.
In 1991, we had 62 diabetes patients in a year. This year we’ll have 162. It’s a more prevalent disease now. We don’t know all the reasons why, but we do know you can manage it better now. If you compare that to the early 80s – diabetes was almost an early death sentence. We didn’t have the technology, so you were expected to be in the hospital more frequently, probably lose your vision, have kidney failure, maybe lose limbs with amputation. Now, while insulin doesn’t cure diabetes, it makes it so patients will survive. The life expectancy now is almost the same as any other person, which is amazing. So in the last 100 years, we’ve come a long way.
I started as a nurse at Children’s three years ago. I got my foot in the door, then became a full-time diabetes educator just a few weeks ago. This is my dream job, but I hope I’m around long enough to be put out of business. I hope we’re that close to a cure for diabetes. Until then, though, I’ll take Braden’s example with me to each patient session I have. He taught me to expect the unexpected with kids. Don’t expect it to be a challenge, because kids tend to surprise you. He was the perfect example of what we tell families: diabetes does not have to rule your life or ruin your life, you can work diabetes into your life. I think he’ll blow everyone away by what he’s able to do. Braden was diagnosed on Monday, and the next weekend, he was playing the drums again. If patients can have a good, positive attitude in the beginning and start mastering the skills we want them to, then that gives them the power to master the disease and manage the disease.
Within a week of his diagnosis, Braden was back on the baseball diamond and playing drums with his band.