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Washington Hospital Seminar Focuses on Needs of Students with Diabetes

May 25, 2010

School Nurses, Teachers, Coaches, and Parents Are Encouraged to Attend

Diabetes is on the rise among children and teens, making it even more critical that school staff know about diabetes and understand the needs of students who live with the chronic disease. Parents also need to know how to work with the school system so their children with diabetes can focus on learning and engage in school activities.

"Students with diabetes do have special needs," said Sandra Mertesdorf, R.N., a certified diabetes educator at the Washington Outpatient Diabetes Center. "It’s important that the school be able to help these students keep their diabetes under control so they have the optimum opportunity to benefit from an education. They can have a difficult time learning and participating in sports and other activities when their blood sugar is out of control."

Mertesdorf will present an upcoming seminar with Lynn Franks, also a certified diabetes instructor at the Washington Outpatient Diabetes Center, titled "Diabetes Management at School: Preschool to College." The class is scheduled for Thursday, June 3, from 7 to 8 p.m. It will be held at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue, in Fremont.

The seminar is for school nurses, teachers, coaches, and other staff, as well as the parents and caregivers of children and teens with diabetes. "With more young people being diagnosed with diabetes these days, everybody needs to learn more about it," Mertesdorf said.

She will provide an overview of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar (glucose).

"Type 1 is the most common form of diabetes for children and adolescents," Mertesdorf said. "But unlike 20 years ago, we now are also seeing some children with type 2 diabetes."

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t make enough or properly use insulin. In adults, type 2 diabetes accounts for about 90 percent of all cases.

"Heredity, obesity, diet and inactivity play a big role in the development of type 2 diabetes," Mertesdorf explained. "Our lifestyles have changed, so we are seeing younger people with type 2 diabetes. In addition, with the current obesity epidemic, more and more kids are developing this type of diabetes.

Develop a Care Plan

Children with type 1 diabetes must take insulin to keep their blood glucose levels under control. It can quickly turn into a dangerous situation if insulin is missed. For many, that means regular injections, which can be problematic during school time. At the seminar, parents will learn about developing a plan that details their child’s medical needs.

"Parents need to make sure their child has a 504 plan on file at school that provides details about the care their child needs and who to contact in case of an emergency," Mertesdorf said. "The plan should be developed with the child’s doctor and provide information about medications, their timing and how they are given, blood sugar goals, dietary requirements, and other medical issues that need to be considered."

She encourages parents to meet with teachers, coaches and other school staff to discuss the plan and ways to ensure their child’s safety. Coaches and physical education teachers play a significant role for children and teens who participate in sports, according to Mertesdorf. Activity affects blood glucose levels, so some students may need to check blood sugars, take medication, eat snacks, drink fluids, or have breaks during practice, in the middle of a game, or even on fieldtrips.

"Keeping diabetes under control is a balancing act between activity, nutrition and medication," she said. "School personnel need to know as much as they can about diabetes so they are aware of the signs and symptoms of low and high blood sugar, and know what to do if there is an emergency and when it’s time to call 911. The more people know and are prepared, the better equipped they are to make decisions if something does happen."

Diabetes safety in school requires the collaboration of school nurses and staff, doctors, students, parents and caregivers, she added.

"From my experience, school staff take this very seriously and really want to help do what’s best for the child," Mertesdorf said. "But parents also need to be advocates for their child and make sure everyone at the school is on board."
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Learn More about the Washington Outpatient Diabetes Center
The Washington Outpatient Diabetes Center recently celebrated the opening of its new location at 3575 Beacon Avenue in Fremont. The center is open Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about the diabetes services available, please visit www.whhs.com/diabetes or call (510) 745-6556.

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