Critically High Blood Sugar, Critical Science

In recognition of CHE’s 10th anniversary, colleagues who have been particularly instrumental to shaping CHE this past decade will be invited to write an introduction. This month’s introduction is by Sarah Howard, who serves as the national coordinator for CHE’s Diabetes-Obesity Spectrum Working Group.

“It’s critically high,” the ER nurse informed me, describing my toddler’s blood sugar level. She had just pricked his tiny finger, but it wasn’t enough; she needed a blood draw to see how just how high it really was. Two nurses held down my son, while I tried to comfort him, while he screamed, while they prodded and poked, failing to hit a vein. The pediatric team was called in, and eventually he slept while I heard the result: 798, a number seared in my memory forever, a dangerously high blood sugar level. My 23-month-old little boy had diabetes.

That was five years ago, almost 10,000 needles ago. After the shock of his diagnosis wore off, I started reading more about type 1 diabetes. I found out that type 1 incidence was increasing in children—in 58 different countries around the world. That the increasing type 1 incidence was due to some environmental factors, that genetics alone could not explain it. That the increase was most rapid in the youngest children, the children who, like my son, developed diabetes before their fifth birthday party. This much was clear. What was not clear was why.

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