Finding a Silver Lining from DKA
Diabetic Ketoacidosis at
Freshman Orientation Camp
In August 2015, our 18 year old Type 1 Diabetic son set off for his college freshman orientation camp.
He almost did not make it home alive.
DKA is a demon. It shows no mercy. It sneaks in on your bad days and is always waiting in the wings to grab you if you let your guard down.
Tristan Edgar is a college student at
Texas Tech University in Texas.
What is Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA)?
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a potentially life-threatening complication of diabetes mellitus. Signs and symptoms may include vomiting, abdominal pain, deep gasping breathing, increased urination, weakness, confusion, and occasionally loss of consciousness. A person’s breath may develop a specific smell. Onset of symptoms is usually rapid. In some cases people may not realize they previously had diabetes.
DKA happens most often in those with type 1 diabetes, but can also occur in those with other types of diabetes under certain circumstances. Triggers may include infection, not taking insulin correctly, stroke, and certain medications such as steroids. DKA results from a shortage of insulin; in response the body switches to burning fatty acids which produces acidic ketone bodies. DKA is typically diagnosed when testing finds high blood sugar, low blood pH, and ketoacids in either the blood or urine.
Dehydration plays a role
DKA snagged my son within the first day of his camp. A stomach bug and dehydration gave DKA an invite to join his plans. No, his blood sugar was not necessarily high. It is important to note that blood sugars do not always have to be high for diabetic ketoacidosis.
Dehydration can have a huge impact as well. Combined with a stomach virus, that was a cocktail that could not be beat.
College freshmen are adults
Yes. The camp knew he was diabetic. Yes. They had a full clinic onsite. But a clinic that does not recognize the signs of DKA can’t help. A teen who does not realize how quickly things can go seriously wrong creates a perfect storm.
It is also important to remember, teens going off to college are adults. Due to HIPAA, a clinic will not take the initiative to call the parents.
Too sick to be here…at the hospital!
Between 6-7 hours after he stepped into the camp clinic, they sent a camp counselor to drive him to the hospital. He was so sick at this point, he needed to be in ICU!
The hospital took one look at him and said “He is too sick to be here!” So they shipped him five hours by ambulance to the medical center in Houston. Two full time attendants on him – a moving Intensive Care Unit on wheels.
Everybody got very lucky on this one. Our son, our family and the university. We dodged the DKA bullet. And we ALL learned something very valuable.
With the development of new technology such as CGMs and close parental management, it is possible to go many years without a DKA incident.
That is fantastic for our T1s. But… that also means we forget.
DKA can be deadly
Unless your teen has had a recent diabetic ketoacidosis incident, it is easy for a teen to head off to college not realizing how serious and deadly it can be. And it’s fast. Immediate response to DKA is critical.
DKA likes to loom behind simple illnesses. Knowing how to handle a sick day is important for teens.
You can learn more about a College Sick Day plan here.
Teach your Teen the Signs of DKA
Headaches – Extreme Thirst – Frequent Urination
Fatigue & Weakness – Blurry Vision – Fruity Breath Odor
Rapid Deep Breathing – Nausea & Vomiting
Pain in the abdomen – High Ketone Levels (blood/urine)
High Blood Glucose* – Dry/Flushed Skin
*BG does not always have to be high to develop ketones.
Dehydration and illness can impact DKA symptoms.
Remind your teen that these symptoms can also be mistaken for:
flu, virus, a stomach bug or strep throat.
Finding a silver lining
Our family tries to find the silver lining in the dark cloud of diabetes. We created Type 1 To Go Teen so we could share some of the challenges of T1D Teen years.
There are so many things to address before a teen leaves for college. DKA Awareness should be one of them.
Over the last year, I have spoken at many events. Parents and teens ask me what I think is the MOST important thing they should do to prepare to leave for college with diabetes.
My answer: Know the signs of DKA and have a Sick Day Plan.
DKA Awareness at the University
In addition to Type 1 To Go Teen, we have asked our son’s university to participate in the Beyond Type 1 DKA Campaign. University health services teams need to know the symptoms and seriousness of DKA. They also need to be able to share that with their Type 1 students who are away from home for the first time.
We are losing too many young adults to DKA. That was almost us and we will never forget that. It was a great teachable opportunity for everyone involved.
Texas Tech Health Services Team is “Guns Up” to promote
Type 1 Diabetes Awareness on their campuses!
A silver lining from my son’s DKA – Texas Tech University became the third Texas college to commit to the Beyond Type 1 DKA Awareness campaign. The Student Health Science center is a vital team player for our son’s well-being while he is at school.
I am super proud of Texas Tech University for increasing awareness for Type 1 Diabetes and DKA with their students.
Making friends at camp
Our son did not get to enjoy his college freshman orientation experience. Being in DKA prevented him from making new friends at the camp.
However, his friends made friends. His friends introduced him to a sweet young girl from the camp the first week on campus.
They introduced him as “That kid who was in the hospital at camp”. She said “Oh, you’re that guy!” and he said “Yep, I’m THAT guy!”
And they have been together ever since!!!
Tristan Edgar & Amanda Hodge met the first week at Texas Tech University.
They are excited to see Texas Tech increase Type 1 Diabetes awareness.
That sweet girl has been a blessing to our family. Amanda is studying nursing and she keeps an eye on our Type 1 Diabetic son for us! She has even attended his endocrinology appointments with him. Our son adores her and so do we!
Now that’s truly finding a silver lining from DKA!!!
Written by Anne Imber
published on 7/12/2017 by www.Type1ToGo.com
Anne Imber is the mom to a Type 1 Diabetic son diagnosed in 2009. As the Founder of Type 1 To Go Teen, Anne shares her experiences with other Type 1 families regarding many of the non-medical issues that Type 1 Diabetic Teens face. The website www.Type1ToGo.com provides support materials from her presentations. Anne is also the Co-Founder of Cy Fair Type One Connection, a T1 School Advocacy & Support Group for one of the largest school districts in Texas.
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