Young diabetic is going full speed ahead

April 09, 1991|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Evening Sun Staff

NICK WALTERS is 13. He likes baseball, comics, math and pizza.

He has a doting mother who calls him ''a rotten kid'' as he lobs a soccer ball through the house and a father whom he calls ''my best friend.''

Nick Walters has braces, big sisters, a cat, two rabbits and designs on a bulldog. He also has diabetes. But Nick doesn't let that slow him down -- not much anyway.

In fact, since Nick's diabetes was diagnosed almost four years ago, his hobbies have grown to include fund-raising, public speaking and publishing.

Last summer he wrote a book, ''Diabetes and Doing Your Best,'' to help others cope with the disease and spent $3,500 of his own money to have 2,000 copies of it published.

The slim book brings together ''some things that weren't anywhere but needed to be,'' says Nick, who lives in Ruxton and attends Park School. Included are practical suggestions, such as how to chart blood-sugar readings and how to eat regularly in irregular situations, as well as a history of the disease, a list of famous people who have diabetes and Nick's experiences. ''I hope it helps people,'' he says.

''On July 9, 1987, I found out that I have something in common with 12 million other people in America. I have a form of diabetes . . . . I have to take insulin shots daily to stay alive. The way it came on so suddenly it almost killed me. It killed my pancreas for sure, but I'll never let it get to me,'' Nick writes in the first chapter.

Much of Nick's story -- of going from what his parents thought was sluggishness caused by a summer cold to a coma in a few days -- is told in the book by his mother, Connie Walters, who remembers:

''Nick couldn't walk, and his eyes were rolling in his head. Sandy [Nick's father] car

ried him to the car. I held him in my arms in the back seat."

Nick had lost more than 12 pounds in a couple of months and his glucose level, when he arrived at the hospital, was almost 1,500 -- ''one of the highest blood sugars ever recorded,'' Nick relates now, almost with pride. Normal is from 75 to 150.

"We were told to be prepared for anything," Connie Walters continues in the book. "They didn't know if Nick could be saved." The Walterses were told that there could be severe brain damage. "It was a very scary night," she remembers.

"They also told us that his life had been shortened by one-third. I have never gotten over this fact."

But Nick was OK after that first night. His recovery began almost immediately, as did the education of the Walters family. It was in the hospital, in fact, that Nick's book had its beginnings; there, he and his family began learning about diabetes, talking to people who have it and gathering information.

Last summer, Nick and his 17-year-old sister, April, put all the pieces together.

''The doctors encouraged him to be a normal kid,'' says his mother. But, ''we had to work hard not to change too much,'' she says, adding that her first inclination was to rid the house of everything sweet.

Now, however, Nick even makes candy, although he doesn't eat much of it -- and says he never really did.

Nick, like other diabetics with Juvenile Diabetes, controls his illness with insulin, diet and exercise.

He administers his own insulin twice a day with an air pressure injector that is ''a lot less painful'' than syringes.

He tests his blood sugar level five times a day by drawing a small amount of blood and putting it on a ''pad'' that gives him an exact reading. If the count is low or high, he adjusts his eating accordingly. ''I can still eat candy sometimes if my blood sugar is low,'' Nick says.

He uses a prescribed, restricted diet not to control weight but to ensure that he eats the right kinds and amounts of food every day. He still eats his favorite foods -- pizza, cheeseburgers and peanut butter. He takes snacks, such as crackers, fruit juice and diet soda, with him everywhere. If he knows he will be straying from his prescribed eating plan, such as on holidays, Nick adjusts his insulin intake.

''My specialist, Dr. [Bruce] Sindler, always says to remember I am a person first," Nick writes. 'He realizes that in the real world even a person with diabetes has to have good times, too,'' But Nick cautions, ''It's only after you know the rules that you can bend the rules a little.''

Nick knows the rules and his body. ''After a few months, I could tell if I was low or high [on blood sugar level],'' he says. ''When it's high, I really feel much worse. My throat's dry. I don't want to move around much.

''When it's low, I'm more energetic. I'm also, like, shaking a lot.''

Nick's friends and teachers know he has diabetes, but that doesn't change his relationship with them, he says. And although Nick relates some difficult experiences -- "My first three months at Park School were a disaster'' -- he is almost blase about his illness now. ''I pretty much say to people 'nothing much really changes,' '' he observes.

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