To Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson and his wife, Erin, their 8-year-old daughter Annabelle was the picture of health. She loved playing outside at their DeFuniak Springs home and doing stunts on her scooter.
“She is fearless on that thing,” says Erin Adkinson.
In the fall of 2008, the energetic Annabelle became ill with what her parents thought was a stomach virus. But her vomiting continued for hours until her small body was limp and gaunt.
“It was horrifying,” Adkinson says.
They rushed Annabelle to the emergency room, where they learned that their young daughter was barely clinging to life. The diagnosis: juvenile diabetes, also known as Type I diabetes.
Each year, more than 15,000 children are diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. The symptoms come on suddenly for young children and include extreme thirst, frequent urination, drowsiness, sugar in the urine, sudden vision changes, increased appetite, weight loss, a fruit odor on the breath, heavy breathing and unconsciousness.
The disease leaves its victims reliant on injected or pumped insulin for life. It carries a constant threat of devastating complications, such as kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage, amputations, heart attack, stroke and pregnancy complications. To survive, those with the disease must take multiple injections of insulin daily or use a pump that constantly infuses them with insulin. They also must test their blood six or more times daily.
“We were shocked,” Adkinson says. “We didn’t even know the signs or symptoms.”
The Adkinsons got a crash course on diabetes from Sacred Heart Health System in Pensacola. Looking back, they now realize there were warning signs. Annabelle had lost a little weight, was always thirsty and became grouchy when she was hungry. But with no family history of the disease, those symptoms were easily overlooked.
Despite the education she received from the hospital, Adkinson says she felt alone. She wanted desperately to connect with other families who were dealing with juvenile diabetes. She craved a forum in which families like hers could share ideas and their children could connect with others going through similar experiences.
Just a few months after Annabelle was diagnosed, Adkinson established a Web site, emeraldcoasttype1.com, for families living with juvenile diabetes. She also plans to set up regular support-group meetings.
Adkinson’s hope is that by getting out the word, she can encourage more parents to have their children tested for the disease.