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Ellie shares her diabetes story
ellie pic1
Ellie Hart provides visual gestures as her mother Emily Hart educates Whitmore Charter classmates on the symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes. Ellie was diagnosed with the disease in February. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/The Journal

Type 1 Diabetes has changed Ellie Hart's life forever. Until February she didn't know she had the disease. With November being National Diabetes Awareness Month, the Turlock girl staged an assembly at her Whitmore Charter School in Ceres last week to help educate her classmates on T1D.

During the presentation for kindergartners through fifth-graders, Ellie and her mother, Sinclear Elementary School teacher Emily Hart, engaged in a dialogue about diabetes while Ellie acted out some of her emotions. Various teachers also acted out the symptoms brought on by the illness, which include extreme thirst, frequent urination, sudden weight loss, increased appetite, sudden vision changes, fruity odor breath, nausea, drowsiness, lethargy, heavy labored breathing, feelings of moodiness, lips that are chapped and crying easily.

The danger for Ellie's condition and others like her is falling into a diabetic coma while sleeping or during times when nobody is available to come to her aid. To help prevent that, Ellie will be receiving a service dog that will able to tell others when her blood sugar level fluctuates into life-threatening ranges. Youth and service organization helped raise the $20,000 to buy the dog from Alert Service Dogs of Indianapolis, Indiana. The dog is specifically trained from puppyhood to react to the chemical change produced by blood sugar highs and lows. To train the dog for his long-distance client, the Harts must send countless samples of Ellie's scents on shirts and through saliva samples based on low and high glucose levels.

"This week at school one day she had a 43 which could be unconscious, go into a coma or a seizure," said Emily. "She tested before lunch and she felt like a million bucks and looked fantastic and the head nurse said, ‘This is scary.'"

The following day Ellie hit a 389 level which left untreated could have resulted in kidney failure.

"It's just constantly ongoing and life-threatening. As a mother you hear things and it makes you want to practically vomit."

Ellie is subjected now to eight to 14 tests of her blood sugar each day and up to 10 insulin injections per day to stay alive.

Besides making kids aware of Type 1 Diabetes and its symptoms, Ellie wanted to assure her school that diabetics are normal in other respects.

"People think that diabetics can't have sugar and she can have sugar," said Emily. "Some people think she can't go run around and she can go run around. She can be a kid just like everyone else."

Emily Hart explained to students that Diabetes is a group of metabolic diseases where the body's pancreas does not produce enough insulin or does not properly respond to insulin produced, resulting in high blood sugar levels over a prolonged period. There are several different types of diabetes, but the most common forms are type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Both impact glucose levels, and if left untreated, can cause many complications.

T1D can occur at any age, but is most commonly diagnosed from infancy to late 30s. If a person is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, their pancreas produces little to no insulin, and the body's immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

Those diagnosed with type 1 diabetes must inject insulin several times every day or continually infuse insulin through a pump, as well as manage their diet and exercise habits.

Type 2 diabetes (T2D) typically develops after age 40, but has recently begun to appear with more frequency in children. If a person is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, their pancreas still produces insulin, but the body does not produce enough or is not able to use it effectively.

Those diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes manage their disease through a combination of treatments, including diet control, exercise, self-monitoring of blood glucose, and in some cases, oral drugs or insulin.